New drug relieves symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome in females

October 31, 1999

ROCHESTER, MINN.-- A Mayo Clinic-led study found that a new drug called alosetron (ah-loss'-e-tron) improves pain relief and bowel function in women with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It specifically helped patients who experienced diarrhea or altered bowel habits, not patients with constipation.

"This is the first drug that not only normalizes bowel function but also relieves some of the pain and discomfort of this disorder," says the lead investigator, Michael Camilleri, M.D, a gastroenterologist at Mayo Clinic.

The muti-center study tested four doses of the medication and placebo (an inactive medication) in 370 patients. The study found that 70 percent of females taking a 1 mg. dose twice a day reported adequate relief of pain and discomfort over the 12 weeks of the study, compared to 30 percent taking a placebo. The women also reported significant improvement in bowel functions, including less frequency and urgency of bowel movements. Side effects of constipation and headache were reported in 20 percent and 10 percent of participants, respectively.

The study, reported in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, showed no benefits in either pain relief or bowel function for males.

IBS is one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders, affecting about 15 percent of the population. It appears to be much more common in women than men, based on numbers who seek medical attention for the problem. The cause of the disease, sometimes known as "spastic colon," is unknown although it is thought to involve nerves controlling sensation and contractions in the digestive system. Among common symptoms are abdominal pain, cramping, a bloated feeling, gas and diarrhea or constipation. It is one of the leading causes of lost work and school time.

Alosetron is a nerve receptor antagonist that has the effect of relaxing the colon and slowing the transit of food residue through the colon. Because of this, patients who reported symptoms of constipation due to IBS were excluded from this study.

The drug is not currently available to the public. However, the drug maker, Glaxo Wellcome Inc., is currently seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration to market the drug in the United States.
Mike O'Hara
507-284-9522 (days)
507-284-2511 (evenings)

Mayo Clinic

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