Cystic fibrosis (CF) is the most common, life-limiting, genetically inherited disease. It affects multiple organs, particularly the respiratory system. However, gastrointestinal problems such as constipation and distal intestinal obstruction syndrome (DIOS) are also important and well-recognised complications in CF. They share similar symptoms e.g. bloating, abdominal pain, but are distinct conditions. Constipation occurs when there is gradual faecal impaction of the colon, but DIOS occurs when there is an accumulation of faeces and sticky mucus, forming a mass in the distal part of the small intestine. The mass may partially block the intestine (incomplete DIOS) or completely block the intestine (complete DIOS). Symptoms of DIOS can affect quality of life and other aspects of CF health, such as airway clearance, exercise, sleep and nutritional status. Treatment of constipation and prevention of complete bowel obstruction are required for gastrointestinal management in CF. However, many different strategies are used in clinical practice and there is a lack of consensus. The importance of this topic was highlighted in a recent research priority setting exercise by the James Lind Alliance.
To evaluate the effectiveness and safety of laxative agents of differing types for preventing DIOS (complete and incomplete) in children and adults with CF.
We searched the Cochrane Cystic Fibrosis and Genetic Disorders Group Trials Register comprising references identified from comprehensive electronic database searches and handsearches of relevant journals and abstract books of conference proceedings. Date of search: 22 May 2018.
We also searched online trial registries. Date of last search: 10 June 2018.
Randomised and quasi-randomised controlled parallel trials comparing laxative therapy for preventing DIOS (including osmotic agents, stimulants, mucolytics and substances with more than one action) at any dose to placebo, no treatment or an alternative laxative therapy, in people of any age with pancreatic sufficient or insufficient CF and any stage of lung disease. Randomised cross-over trials were judged on an individual basis.
Data collection and analysis
Two authors independently assessed trials for inclusion, extracted outcome data and performed a risk of bias assessment for the included data. We judged the quality of the evidence using GRADE criteria.
We included one cross-over trial (17 participants) with a duration of 12 months, in which participants were randomly allocated to either cisapride (a gastro-prokinetic agent) or placebo for six months each. The trial had an unclear risk of bias for most domains but had a high risk of reporting bias.
Radiograph scores revealed no difference in occurrence of DIOS between cisapride and placebo (narrative report, no data provided). There were no adverse effects. Symptom scores were the only secondary outcome within the review that were reported. Total gastrointestinal symptom scores favoured cisapride with a statistically significant mean difference (MD) of -7.60 (95% confidence interval (CI) -14.73 to -0.47). There was no significant difference at six months between cisapride and placebo for abdominal distension, MD -0.90 (95% CI -2.39 to 0.59) or abdominal pain, MD -0.4 (95% CI -2.05 to 1.25). The global symptom scores (whether individuals felt better or worse) were reported in the paper to favour cisapride and be statistically significant (P < 0.05).
We assessed the available data to be very low quality. There was a great deal of missing data from the included trial and the investigators failed to report numerical data for many outcomes. The overall risk of bias of the trial was unclear and it had a high risk for reporting bias. There was also indirectness; the trial drug (cisapride) has since been removed from the market in several countries due to adverse effects, thus it has no current applicability for preventing DIOS. The included trial also had very few participants, which downgraded the quality a further level for precision.
There is an absence of evidence for interventions for the prevention of DIOS. As there was only one included trial, we could not perform a meta-analysis of the data. Furthermore, the included trial compared a prokinetic agent (cisapride) that is no longer licensed for use in a number of countries due to the risk of serious cardiac events, a finding that came to light after the trial was conducted. Therefore, the limited findings from the trial are not applicable in current clinical practice.
Overall, a great deal more research needs to be undertaken on gastrointestinal complications in CF, as this is a very poorly studied area compared to respiratory complications in CF.