Prucalopride -Not Better Than Placebo for Children with Constipation

Background: There were high expectations for prucalopride for the treatment of constipation based on previous small studies as well as a placebo-controlled trial in adults.  In adults, after 12 weeks of treatment, between 19.5-29% were responders compared to 9.6-12.1% in placebo patients. Prucalopride is a 5-hydroxytryptamine receptor-4  (5HT4) agonist which has been shown to accelerate colonic motility and is similar structurally to agents like cisapride and tegaserod; these latter medications have shown effectiveness as prokinetics but were limited by life-threatening cardiovascular side effects.

Design: Large (n=213), multicenter, placebo-controlled trial (Mugie SM, et al. Gastroenterol 2014; 147: 1285-95, editorial 1214-16). Response to medication indicated by >3 spontaneous bowel movements per week and <1 episode of fecal incontinence every 2 weeks.


  • 17% of prucalopride subjects and 17.8% of placebo subjects were considered responders.
  • If based solely on bowel movement frequency, 29.2% of prucalopride achieved >3 BMs/week, whereas 35.5% of placebo-treated patients achieved this frequency.
  • Adverse effects were similar

Why did Prucalopride not work?

The authors and editorial make several speculations.  In children, withholding behavior is much more important in the pathophysiology of functional constipation (FC) than in adults.  In addition, slow transit constipation is much more common in adults than in children. In the adolescents (≥12 to <18) there was a mild response noted: 18.5% compared with 14.8% of placebo-treated patients (P=.38). The editorial notes that the short length of the trial (8 weeks) could explain the negative results, though this is unlikely.

The editorial, by Samuel Nurko and Miguel Saps, notes a much higher response to polyethylene glycol which “is the mainstay of treatment.”  “PEG-based solutions achieved a successful outcome in 56% of participants compared with 29% in the lactulose group.”

Take-home message: “This study does not provide new data to justify a change in the indication of PEG as first line of treatment for FC in children.”

In followup to questions regarding Miralax safety, here is a link from NASPGHAN’s Neurogastroenterology and Motility Committee: Miralax FAQ

Related blog posts:

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