Mechanism of action and toxicities of purgatives used for colonoscopy preparation

Margaret Adamcewicz, Dilip Bearelly, Gail Porat, Frank K Friedenberg
Expert Opinion on Drug Metabolism & Toxicology 2011, 7 (1): 89-101

IMPORTANCE OF THE FIELD: In developed countries, colonoscopy volume has increased dramatically over the past 15 years and is the principle method used to screen for colon cancer. Preparations used for colon cleaning have evolved over the past 30 years. Some preparations have been shown to be unsafe and are now used on a limited basis. There has been progress on limiting the volume required and on taste improvement.

AREAS COVERED IN THIS REVIEW: This review provides an account of preparations used from 1980 when PEG-based preparations became widely available, until the present day. The review highlights their mechanism of action and principle toxicities. The handling of solutes and solute-free fluid by the colon is also reviewed.

WHAT THE READER WILL GAIN: The reader will gain a perspective on the factors considered in developing colonic purgatives and the rationale for choosing selected preparations based on patient factors such as age, co-morbidities and concomitant medications.

TAKE HOME MESSAGE: Although generally safe and effective, colonic purgatives have both acute and permanent toxicities. The safest preparations utilize PEG combined with a balanced electrolyte solution. Limitations of this preparation center on the volume required and poor taste. Alternative formulations are now available; however, those using sodium phosphate have fallen out of favor due to a risk of renal toxicity.

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