The acute effects of single pharmacological doses of glucocorticoid hormones on net electrolyte and water transport and electrical potential difference (pd) in the rectum was studied in control subjects and in patients with either active or inactive ulcerative colitis, using a dialysis technique. Compared with 17 control subjects, nine patients with active ulcerative colitis exhibited marked decreases in net sodium absorption and rectal pd, while these transport parameters were normal in six patients with inactive ulcerative colitis. Intravenous administration of hydrocortisone hemisuccinate (100 mg) resulted five hours later in significant and quantitatively similar increases in net sodium and water absorption and pd in nine control subjects, seven patients with active ulcerative colitis, and six patients with inactive ulcerative colitis. Intravenous administration of methylprednisolone phosphate (40 mg) to eight control subjects produced increases in net sodium and water absorption and pd five hours later, which did not differ significantly from those produced by hydrocortisone; methylprednisolone induced similar changes in two patients with active ulcerative colitis. These results indicate that single pharmacological doses of glucocorticoids stimulate acute increases in rectal sodium and water absorption in control subjects and in patients with acute ulcerative colitis. The ability of systemically administered glucocorticoids to reduce diarrhoea in ulcerative colitis may therefore be related to direct effects on distal colonic sodium and water transport, as well as to their better known anti-inflammatory action.
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