PEG-based laxatives are considered today the gold standard for the treatment of constipation in children. PEG formulations differ in terms of composition of inactive ingredients which may have an impact on acceptance, compliance and adherence to treatment. We therefore compared the efficacy, tolerability, acceptance and compliance of a new PEG-only formulation compared to a reference PEG-electrolyte (PEG-EL) formulation in resolving faecal impaction and in the treatment of chronic constipation.
Children aged 2–16 years with functional chronic constipation for at least 2 months were randomized to receive PEG-only 0.7 g/kg/day in 2 divided doses or 6.9 g PEG-EL 1–4 sachets according to age for 4 weeks. Children with faecal impaction were randomized to receive PEG-only 1.5/g/kg in 2 divided doses until resolution or for 6 days or PEG-EL with an initial dose of 4 sachets and increasing 2 sachets a day until resolution or for 7 days.
Ninety-six children were randomized into the study. Five patients withdrew consent before starting treatment. Three children discontinued treatment for refusal due to bad taste of the product (1 PEG-only, 2 PEG-EL); 1 (PEG-EL) for an adverse effect (abdominal pain). Intent-to-treat analysis was carried out in 49 children in the PEG-only group and 42 in the PEG-EL group.
No significant differences were observed between the two treatment groups at baseline.
Adequate relief of constipation in terms of normalized frequency and painless defecation of soft stools was achieved in all patients in both groups. The number of stools/week was 9.2 ± 3.2 (mean ± SD) in the PEG-only group and 7.8 ± 2.4 in the PEG-EL group (p = 0.025); the number of days with stool was 22.4 ± 5.1 in the PEG-only group and 19.6 ± 7.2 in the PEG-EL group (p = 0.034).
In the PEG-only group faecaloma resolution was observed in 5 children on the second day and in 2 children on the third day, while in the PEG-EL group it was observed in 2 children on the second day, in 3 children on the third day and in 1 child on the fifth day.
Only 2 patients reported mild treatment-related adverse events: 1 child in the PEG-only group had diarrhoea and vomiting and 1 child in the PEG-EL group had abdominal pain requiring treatment discontinuation. The PEG-only preparation was better tolerated as shown by the lower frequency of nausea than in the PEG-EL group.
In the PEG-only group, 96% of patients did not demonstrate any difficulties associated with treatment, as compared with 52% of patients in the PEG-EL group (p < 0.001). Also, the PEG-only formulation taste was better than that of PEG-EL (p < 0.001). The difference between the percentage of subjects who took > 80% of the prescribed dose was in favour of the PEG-only group (98% vs. 88%), though it did not reach a conventional statistical level (p = 0.062).
PEG-only was better tolerated and accepted than PEG-EL in children with chronic constipation. At the higher PEG doses recommended by the manufactures children in the PEG-only group had higher and more regular soft stool frequency than PEG-EL.