Cholestyramine has the following primary indications:
Other Clinical Applications:
Cholestyramine is a large cationic exchange resin polymer. It is insoluble in water.
Bile acids, metabolites of cholesterol, are normally efficiently reabsorbed in the jejunum and ileum. Excretion is increased up to tenfold when cholestyramine is given, resulting in the enhanced conversion of cholesterol to bile acids in the liver via 7a-hydroxylation, which is normally controlled by negative feedback by bile acids.
Increased uptake of LDL-Cholesterol and IDL from plasma results from the upregulation of the LDL receptors, particularly in the liver. Therefore, the bile acid resins, including cholestyramine is not helpful in patients with homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia, who have no functioning receptors.
Decreased activation of the farnesoid X receptor (FXR receptor) by bile acids may result in a modest increase in plasma triglycerides but can also improve glucose metabolism in patients with diabetes. The latter effect is due to the increased secretion of the incretin glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) from the intestine, thus increasing insulin secretion.
Cholestyramine also interferes with the metabolism of thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone is metabolized mainly in the liver where it is conjugated to glucuronides and sulfates. These conjugation products then enter the enterohepatic circulation by excretion into the bile. A fraction of conjugated products are deconjugated in the intestine, and free hormones are reabsorbed. In states of thyrotoxicosis, there is increased enterohepatic circulation of thyroid hormone. Cholestyramine decreases reabsorption of thyroid hormone from enterohepatic circulation.
Cholestyramine is available as a granular preparation. Cholestyramine should ideally be taken with breakfast when it is given to treat pruritus associated with cholestasis. Symptoms of pruritus are less frequent in the morning as it is believed that the pruritogenic factors are concentrated in the gallbladder during overnight fasting. Most patients with chronic cholestasis and partial biliary obstruction will notice some relief of their symptoms after a week of therapy. If not, another 4-gram dose may be given after breakfast. Additional doses, if needed, can be taken with meals 2-3 times daily; the response with additional doses is not marked. The lowest possible dose that controls pruritus should be used. Care should be exercised when taking other medications which have the potential to mix with cholestyramine, leading to diminished efficacy. The maintenance dose is usually 4 grams/day, but the effective dose for treatment of cholestasis ranges from 4 to 16 grams/day.
Although cholestyramine lowers serum bile acid levels by inhibiting the reabsorption of bile acids from small bowel, other bile acid sequestrants such as colesevelam do not relieve pruritus in cholestasis. Thus binding of other pruritogens, stimulating the release of other endogenous anti-opioid agents such as cholecystokinin might explain why cholestyramine is effective in the relief of pruritus in other non-cholestatic disorders such as polycythemia vera and uremia.
Cholestyramine is contraindicated in cases of severe hypertriglyceridemia and complete biliary obstruction.
A multidisciplinary approach to cholestyramine resin
Cholestyramine has been around for over half a century. Most clinicians, sadly, do not know that is it a useful therapeutic agent for the treatment of both hypercholesterolemia and pruritus. Healthcare workers who have patients with chronic pruritus should be familiar with this agent as it can improve the quality of life. Primary caregivers, nurse practitioners, internists and other physicians who deal with patients with liver failure may find the drug useful for managing pruritus. Cholestyramine is a relatively safe drug, but patients need to be educated on how to use it for maximal efficiency and prevention of drug interactions. For those healthcare workers who would like to use the drug, the pharmacist is the ideal person to provide more practical details on dosage and duration.