What is upper gastrointestinal bleeding (UGIB)?

Updated: Aug 12, 2019
  • Author: Bennie Ray Upchurch, III, MD, FACP, AGAF, FACG, FASGE; Chief Editor: BS Anand, MD  more...
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Acute gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding is a potentially life-threatening abdominal emergency that remains a common cause of hospitalization. [3, 4]  Upper GI bleeding (UGIB) is defined as bleeding derived from a source proximal to the ligament of Treitz. [5]

The incidence of UGIB is approximately 100 cases per 100,000 population per year. [6] Bleeding from the upper GI tract is approximately 4 times more common than bleeding from the lower GI tract and is a major cause of morbidity and mortality. Mortality rates from UGIB are 6%-10% overall. [6] (See Epidemiology.)

The diagnosis of and therapy for nonvariceal UGIB has evolved since the late 20th century from passive diagnostic esophagogastroduodenoscopy with medical therapy until surgical intervention was needed to active intervention with endoscopic techniques followed by angiographic and surgical approaches if endoscopic therapy fails. [7] (See Workup and Treatment.)

Variceal hemorrhage is not discussed in this article because the underlying mechanisms of bleeding are different and require different therapies.

The underlying mechanisms of nonvariceal bleeding involve either arterial hemorrhage, such as in ulcer disease and mucosal deep tears, or low-pressure venous hemorrhage, as in telangiectasias and angioectasias. In variceal hemorrhage, the underlying pathophysiology is due to elevated portal pressure transmitted to esophageal and gastric varices and resulting in portal gastropathy. A bleeding ulcer is seen below. (See Etiology.)

See Pediatric Gastrointestinal Bleeding for more information on this topic.

Upper gastrointestinal bleeding (UGIB). Ulcer with Upper gastrointestinal bleeding (UGIB). Ulcer with active bleeding.

In patients with UGIB, comorbid illness, rather than actual bleeding, is the major cause of death. Comorbid illness has been noted in 50.9% of patients, with similar occurrences in males (48.7%) and females (55.4%).

One or more comorbid illnesses have been noted in 98.3% of mortalities in UGIB; in 72.3% of patients, comorbid illnesses have been noted as the primary cause of death. [8, 9] (See Epidemiology and Prognosis.)

Significant comorbidities have become more prevalent as the patient population with UGIB has become progressively older. In a retrospective chart review by Yavorski et al, 73.2% of deaths occurred in patients older than 60 years. [9] (See Epidemiology and Prognosis.)

Rebleeding or continued bleeding is associated with increased mortality; therefore, differentiating the patient with a low probability of rebleeding and little comorbidity from the patient at high risk for rebleeding with serious comorbidities is imperative. (See Presentation and Workup.)

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