Theophylline desorption from activated charcoal caused by whole bowel irrigation solution1

Robert S. Hoffman, William K. Chiang, Mary Ann Howland, Richard S. Weisman, Lewis R. Goldfrank

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

22 Scopus citations


Whole bowel irrigation with polyethylene glycol electrolyte lavage solution has been recommended as an adjunct to traditional overdose management. Although combined activated charcoal and whole bowel irrigation could enhance the efficacy of both modalities, this improvement remains largely speculative. An in vitro experiment was designed to determine whether polyethylene glycol electrolyte lavage solution alters the adsorption of theophylline to activated charcoal. Theophylline was agitated with activated charcoal in either water or polyethylene glycol electrolyte lavage solution, at each of three activated charcoal:theophylline ratios; 1:1, 3:1, and 10:1. The concentration in the supernatant was determined by high pressure liquid chromatography, and the maximal adsorptive capacity of activated charcoal for theophylline was calculated from the Langmuir equation. The percent of theophylline adsorbed by activated charcoal in water was 16 ± 4% 67 ± 5% and 97 ± 3% for the 1:1, 3:1, and 10:1 ratios, respectively. This was decreased to 17 ± 5% 37 ± 3% and 62 ± 2% when polyethylene glycol electrolyte lavage solution was added. A statistical difference (p < 0.05) occurred at the 3:1 and 10:1 activated charcoal: theophylline ratios. Similarly the maximal adsorptive capacity was decreased 23% from 264 mg/g to 203 mg/g when polyethylene glycol electrolyte lavage solution was added to activated charcoal prior to theophylline. Polyethylene glycol electrolyte lavage solution significantly decreases adsorption of theophylline to activated charcoal in vitro. In vivo studies are required to confirm these findings. If activated charcoal is to be used clinically for theophylline toxicity, the authors suggest the possibility of larger quantities of activated charcoal, and administering activated charcoal in a slurry of water before the initiation of whole bowel irrigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)191-201
Number of pages11
JournalClinical Toxicology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1991
Externally publishedYes



  • Activated charcoal
  • Desorption
  • Theophylline
  • Whole bowel irrigation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis

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