What is the role of peptic ulcer disease in the etiology of upper gastrointestinal bleeding (UGIB)?

Updated: Sep 01, 2021
  • Author: Bennie Ray Upchurch, III, MD, FACP, AGAF, FACG, FASGE; Chief Editor: BS Anand, MD  more...
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Peptic ulcer disease (PUD) remains the most common cause of UGIB. In a literature review involving more than 10,000 patients with UGIB, PUD was responsible for 27%-40% of all bleeding episodes. [10] High-risk patient populations at risk for PUD include those with a history of alcohol abuse, chronic renal failure, and/or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) use. [11]

Peptic ulcer disease is strongly associated with Helicobacter pylori infection. The organism causes disruption of the mucous barrier and has a direct inflammatory effect on the gastric and duodenal mucosa, reducing mucosal defenses and increasing the back diffusion of acid by loosening the tight cellular junctions. (Rates of H pylori infection are reportedly lower in patients with complicated ulcer disease than in patients with uncomplicated ulcers. Hosking et al reported a 71% incidence of H pylori infection in patients with bleeding duodenal ulcers; patients with nonbleeding ulcers had an incidence of 93%.) This discrepancy may be due to the decrease in sensitivity of biopsy in patients with ulcer bleeding. [12]

Eradication of H pylori been demonstrated to reduce the risk of recurrent ulcers and, thus, recurrent ulcer hemorrhage after the initial episode. In fact, the proportion of UGIB cases caused by peptic ulcer disease has declined, [13] a phenomenon that is believed to be due to the use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and anti-H pylori therapy.

Duodenal ulcers are more common than gastric ulcers, but the incidence of bleeding is identical for both. In most cases, the bleeding is caused by the erosion of an artery at the base of the ulcer. In approximately 80% of patients, bleeding from a peptic ulcer stops spontaneously. [10]

Initial endoscopic attempts to maintain hemostasis have a high success rate. Bleeding vessels larger than 1.5 mm in diameter are associated with an increased mortality rate due to the difficulty in producing adequate hemostasis with thermal probes.

A minority of patients experience recurrent bleeding after endoscopic therapy, and these cases are usually associated with risk factors for rebleeding. These factors include age older than 60 years, the presence of shock upon admission, coagulopathy, active pulsatile bleeding, and the presence of cardiovascular disease. (The appearance of the ulcer at the time of endoscopy provides important information regarding the risk of rebleeding.) These circumstances are associated with a poorer prognosis and a higher mortality rate. [14]

Despite the dangers associated with a bleeding peptic ulcer, a study by Sung et al of 10,428 cases of such bleeding (in 9,375 patients) found that most deaths were not caused by it. [15] Of the 577 deaths that occurred in the cohort, almost 80% resulted from other causes, including multiorgan failure, pulmonary conditions, and terminal malignancy. The authors concluded that the management of patients with peptic ulcers should focus not only on hemostasis but also on lowering the risk of multiorgan failure and cardiopulmonary death.

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