Objectives Chronic constipation in diabetes mellitus is associated with colonic motor dysfunction and is managed with laxatives. Cholinesterase inhibitors increase colonic motility. This study evaluated the effects of a cholinesterase inhibitor on gastrointestinal and colonic transit and bowel function in diabetic patients with constipation. Design After a 9-day baseline period, 30 patients (mean±SEM age 50±2 years) with diabetes mellitus (18 type 1, 12 type 2) and chronic constipation without defaecatory disorder were randomised to oral placebo or pyridostigmine, starting with 60 mg three times a day, increasing by 60 mg every third day up to the maximum tolerated dose or 120 mg three times a day; this dose was maintained for 7 days. Gastrointestinal and colonic transit (assessed by scintigraphy) and bowel function were evaluated at baseline and the final 3 and 7 days of treatment, respectively. Treatment effects were compared using analysis of covariance, with gender, body mass index and baseline colonic transit as covariates. Results 19 patients (63%) had moderate or severe autonomic dysfunction; 16 (53%) had diabetic retinopathy. 14 of 16 patients randomised to pyridostigmine tolerated 360 mg daily; two patients took 180 mg daily. Compared with placebo (mean6SEM 1.98±0.17 (baseline), 1.84±0.16 (treatment)), pyridostigmine accelerated (1.9660.18 (baseline), 2.45±0.2 units (treatment), p<0.01) overall colonic transit at 24 h, but not gastric emptying or small-intestinal transit. Treatment effects on stool frequency, consistency and ease of passage were significant (p=0.04). Cholinergic side effects were somewhat more common with pyridostigmine (p≥0.14) than with placebo. Conclusions Cholinesterase inhibition with oral pyridostigmine accelerates colonic transit and improves bowel function in diabetic patients with chronic constipation.
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