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Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2004 Feb 1;19(3):311-21.

The pathophysiology of faecal spotting in obese subjects during treatment with orlistat.

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Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, University Hospital of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland Menne Biomed, Tübingen, Germany.



The intermittent loss of oil or liquid faeces ('spotting') is an adverse effect that occurs in obese patients during treatment with the lipase inhibitor orlistat; the pathophysiology is unknown.


To investigate the effects of orlistat on anorectal sensorimotor function and continence.


Obese subjects susceptible to spotting were identified by an unblind trial of orlistat. Obese spotters (n = 15) and non-spotters (n = 16) completed a randomized, double-blind, cross-over trial of orlistat and placebo. Anorectal function was assessed by rectal barostat and anal manometry, together with a novel stool substitute retention test, a quantitative measurement of faecal continence.


Orlistat increased stool volume and raised faecal fat and water. Treatment had no effect on anorectal motor function, but rectal sensation was reduced; on retention testing, the volume retained was increased. Subjects susceptible to spotting had lower rectal compliance, heightened rectal sensitivity and weaker resting sphincter pressure than non-spotters. On retention testing, gross continence was maintained; however, spotters lost small volumes of rectal contents during rectal filling.


Treatment with orlistat has no direct adverse effects on anorectal function or continence. Spotting occurs during treatment with orlistat when patients with sub-clinical anorectal dysfunction are exposed to increased stool volume and altered stool composition.

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