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SUMMARY

Objective: To determine whether flumecinol (3-trifluoromethyl-α-ethylbenzhydrol, Zixoryn) is effective in ameliorating pruritus of cholestasis, particularly in primary bilary cirrhosis.

Methods and Results: 50 patients (46 with primary biliary cirrhosis, PBC) took oral flumecinol 600 mg or identical placebo once weekly for 3 weeks. Patients assessed pruritus by scoring a daily 100 mm visual analogue scale (VAS; 0 = no itch, 100 = severe, continuous, day and night intolerable itch). Quality of life was similarly measured. Patients scored the VAS daily for a 7–day baseline and for a further 21 days. Subjectively, pruritus improved in 13 of 24 on flumecinol and 10 of 26 on placebo (X2= 1.24, P= 0.2 7). Median difference in fall in VAS pruritus score between baseline week (mean score for each individual used) and the last week was 8.0 [95 % confidence interval (CI) –2.1 to 20.81 and for VAS quality of life was 5.0 (95% C1 0.4 to 13.0) both in favour of flumecinol over placebo. Later, 19 patients (all PBC) were randomised to flumecinol 300 mg or placebo daily for 3 weeks. Subjectively, pruritus improved in 7 of 10 on flumecinol and 1 of 9 on placebo (Fisher's exact test, P= 0.02). Median difference in fall in VAS pruritus score was 19.8 mm (95 % CI 3.3 to 40.7 mm) in favour of flumecinol over placebo and for quality of life was 3.5 mm (95 % C1 – 5.9 to 24.9 mm). Flumecinol did not significantly affect liver function tests, antipyrine clearance or serum total bile acids, and was not associated with any significant side-effects.

Conclusion: Flumecinol was safe at the above doses and short term treatment with 300 mg daily, significantly ameliorated pruritus in primary biliary cirrhosis.