The theophylline-erythromycin interaction

JHG Jonkman*, L Hendeles

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalLetterAcademicpeer-review

    17 Citations (Scopus)


    Since its publication in 1976, the original report of an interaction between erythromycin and theophylline by Cummin, Kozak, and Gillman has generated considerable interest and controversy. Many studies with considerably different designs have been performed to address this question. Those studies that most closely simulate the clinical setting suggest that a 7- to 10-day course of concurrent theophylline and erythromycin therapy will result in variable changes in theophylline clearance. It may be that as many as 25% of patients, especially when maintained with serum theophylline concentrations at the upper portion of the therapeutic range, display elevations in serum theophylline concentrations that might lead to clinical symptoms of theophylline toxicity. There has been a suggestion, based on the mean changes in several studies, that the interaction may lead to a 25% increase in serum theophylline concentrations; however, it is clear that there may be a much larger increase in some patients. This toxicity can be anticipated and avoided if careful attention is paid to monitoring the serum theophylline concentrations of such high-risk patients when erythromycin therapy is contemplated as an addition to theophylline therapy. Other macrolide antibiotics may display interactions with theophylline, which may be due in part to the ability of the various antibiotics to form complexes with isoenzymes of the cytochromes P-450. The growing impression of the importance of mycoplasma in asthmatics and the introduction of new macrolides onto the market make the appreciation of this possible interaction of extreme importance to primary care and chest physicians.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)309-310
    Number of pages2
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 1983

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