In primary anorexia nervosa, gastric motility is often impaired and ensuing symptoms further discourage eating. Prokinetic agents have been shown to accelerate gastric emptying in affected patients. This study investigated whether emptying of a radiolabelled semisolid 1168 kJ meal and antral contractility were enhanced by intravenous erythromycin. Eight women and two men with anorexia nervosa (21-46 years, 50-75% of ideal body weight) received 200 mg erythromycin or placebo under crossover double blind conditions. Gastric emptying and antral contractility were recorded scintigraphically for 90 minutes. In addition, plasma motilin and pancreatic polypeptide concentrations were determined. With placebo, antral contractions were of regular 3 cycles/minute frequency. With erythromycin, less frequent and partly arrhythmic long duration contractions set in and emptying was accelerated: after 90 minutes, the activity remaining in the stomach was markedly less than with placebo in all patients (Sign test, p < 0.002). Basal motilin and pancreatic polypeptide concentrations were normal and showed a normal response to the meal in all patients. Motilin concentrations decreased slightly more and pancreatic polypeptide concentrations increased markedly more with erythromycin than with placebo, possibly because the meal reached the intestine earlier. In conclusion, erythromycin accelerated emptying markedly and in most patients induced an antral motor activity characterised by long duration contractions occurring at often irregular intervals.
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