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Ann Surg. 1993 Sep;218(3):229-37; discussion 237-8.

Erythromycin accelerates gastric emptying after pancreaticoduodenectomy. A prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled trial.

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Department of Surgery, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, Maryland.



This study tested the hypothesis that erythromycin, a motilin agonist, reduces the incidence of early DGE after pancreaticoduodenectomy.


Delayed gastric emptying (DGE) is a leading cause of morbidity after pancreaticoduodenectomy, occurring in up to 40% of patients. The pathogenesis of DGE has been speculated to involve factors such as peritonitis from anastomotic leaks, ischemia to the antropyloric muscles, and gastric atony in response to resection of the duodenal pacemaker or reduction in circulating motilin levels.


Between November 1990 and January 1993, 118 patients undergoing pancreaticoduodenectomy completed this prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. The patients received either 200 mg of intravenous erythromycin lactobionate every 6 hours (n = 58), or an identical volume of 0.9% saline (n = 60) from the third to tenth postoperative days. On the tenth postoperative day, a dual phase radionuclide gastric emptying study was performed.


The erythromycin and control groups were comparable regarding multiple preoperative, intraoperative, and postoperative factors. The erythromycin group had a 37% reduction in the incidence of DGE (19% vs. 30%), a significantly reduced (p < 0.05) need to reinsert a nasogastric tube for DGE (6 vs. 15 patients), and a significantly reduced (p < 0.01) per cent retention of liquids at 30 minutes and solids at 30, 60, 90, and 120 minutes. No major adverse reactions to erythromycin were observed.


Erythromycin is a safe, inexpensive drug that significantly accelerates gastric emptying after pancreaticoduodenectomy and reduces the incidence of DGE by 37%. These data support the use of erythromycin to decrease early DGE after pancreaticoduodenectomy.

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