Background: A case study reporting the efficacy of oral vancomycin in a patient with chronic idiopathic constipation prompted this prospective trial of oral vancomycin in eight female patients (aged 21-61 years) with severe constipation resistant to the action of dietary fibre.
Methods: The trial was divided into two consecutive 14-day periods. During the first period, each patient was given ispaghula, 3.5 g twice a day, and during the subsequent period they took 250 mg vancomycin t.d.s. per os, as well as the fibre supplement. During both periods they collected stools and recorded daily bowel symptoms (stool frequency, straining, stool consistency, subjective stool volume) in a diary. At the end of each period whole gut transit time and the breath hydrogen response to a standard meal, giving oro-caecal transit time, were measured along with gastrointestinal symptoms which were assessed on visual analogue scales.
Results: Vancomycin caused a significant improvement in stool frequency, consistency, ease of defecation and the amount of stool patients felt they produced (all P < 0.05), but objective measures of daily stool weight and whole gut or oro-caecal transit time were not significantly different. Basal breath hydrogen levels were higher after vancomycin treatment in seven out of eight patients. One patient experienced a complete remission of symptoms when she took vancomycin and remains in remission after 14 months. This patient showed no elevation in basal breath hydrogen level.
Conclusion: Although this study does not support the use of vancomycin for most patients with constipation, the results suggest that modification of the intraluminal flora may be of value in the treatment of the occasional case of idiopathic constipation.