Small bowel motility following major intra-abdominal surgery: the effects of opiates and rectal cisapride

Gastroenterology. 1994 Apr;106(4):924-36. doi: 10.1016/0016-5085(94)90751-x.


Background/aims: Human small bowel motility is altered after laparotomy. Opiate analgesia is a possible cause of these alterations, and cisapride is a potential therapy.

Methods: Continuous proximal small bowel manometry was performed for up to 92 hours in 23 patients after major intra-abdominal surgery. They were treated with rectal cisapride (30 mg three times daily) or placebo until the clinical resolution of ileus. Small bowel manometry was performed for 30 hours in 5 volunteers receiving 1 mg/kg meperidine over 3 hours.

Results: Phase III activity was present within 3 hours of the end of surgery in all patients. Initially, the migrating motor complex (MMC) period was markedly reduced (mean, 22 minutes) but gradually increased. Phase II activity was absent until a median of 40 hours had elapsed. Phase III contractile amplitude was markedly attenuated in the jejunum, in contrast to that in the duodenum, presumably as a result of dilatation and/or altered tone, increasing to normal by 72 hours. In the volunteer group, although the MMC period was reduced by meperidine, it remained significantly greater than that of the placebo patient group for approximately 48 hours and phase II was reduced but not eliminated. Cisapride induced some changes in motor activity but did not accelerate the recovery of normal motility. Clinical outcome, assessed by the return of bowel sounds and passage of flatus, was accelerated by cisapride, but the trend was not significant (P = 0.11).

Conclusions: This is the first published study using prolonged manometry to show the gradual evolution of small bowel motor activity after major intra-abdominal surgery. The findings suggest that surgery decreases the MMC period to the equivalent of the absolute refractory period, thereby eliminating phase II, which returns as the MMC period lengthens. Cisapride, at the dosage given, confers only modest benefit.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen / surgery*
  • Administration, Rectal
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cisapride
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Motility / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Intestine, Small / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Manometry
  • Meperidine / adverse effects
  • Meperidine / therapeutic use*
  • Middle Aged
  • Piperidines / administration & dosage*
  • Piperidines / therapeutic use


  • Piperidines
  • Meperidine
  • Cisapride