CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 · Endosc Int Open 2018; 06(10): E1206-E1213
DOI: 10.1055/a-0581-8723
Owner and Copyright © Georg Thieme Verlag KG 2018

A comparative review of use of sulphate and phosphate salts for colonoscopy preparations and their potential for nephrotoxicity

Bruno Moulin
1  Nephrology Department, Strasbourg University Hospital, 67091 Strasbourg, France
Thierry Ponchon
2  Hepatogastroenterology Department, Edouard Herriot Hospital, 69000 Lyon, France
› Author Affiliations
Further Information

Publication History

submitted21 June 2017

accepted after revision28 November 2017

Publication Date:
08 October 2018 (online)


Background and study aims Colonoscopy is a widely used diagnostic procedure which requires prior cleansing of the bowel. Many different bowel cleansing preparations have been developed, all of which have specific advantages and disadvantages. This review compares two low-volume high-osmolarity bowel cleansing preparations, oral phosphate salts and oral sulphate salts, with a particular focus on risk of nephrotoxicity.

Patients and methods An electronic search of the Medline database was performed using the search terms “(phosphates OR sulfates) AND cathartics [MeSH Term] AND kidney” restricted to humans with a cut-off date of December 31, 2016.

Results Introduction of oral phosphate salts offered the advantage of low intake volume and low risk of bowel irritation compared to previous options. However, phosphate salts have been associated with renal toxicity (acute phosphate nephropathy [APN]), thought to arise due to perturbations of calcium and phosphate homeostasis as a consequence of increases in serum phosphate. This results in high concentrations of calcium phosphate in the distal tubule and collecting ducts of the kidney, where it may precipitate. Although APN is rare, it may lead to permanent kidney damage. For this reason, phosphate salts are contraindicated in vulnerable patient groups. As an alternative to phosphate salts, oral sulphate salts have recently been introduced. Because sulphate absorption from the intestinal tract is saturable, serum sulphate concentrations increase only minimally after ingestion. Furthermore, excretion of sulphate in the kidney is not accompanied by calcium excretion and urine calcium levels are unchanged. For these theoretical reasons, use of sulphate salts as bowel cleansing solutions is not expected to lead to calcium precipitation in the nephron.

Conclusions Oral phosphate salts are no longer recommended for routine use as bowel cleansing preparations as they carry significant risk of kidney damage and a safer alternative is available in the form of oral sulphate solutions. To date, use of sulphate salts has not been associated with elevations in serum creatinine or other markers of renal impairment, nor with clinical manifestations of kidney injury. Nonetheless, experience with sulphate salts in everyday practice is limited and physicians should be vigilant in detecting potential safety issues.