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Is hypergastrinaemia dangerous to man?

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Georg-August-University Göttingen, Germany.


Achlorhydria has been discussed as a possibly dangerous consequence of therapeutic inhibition of gastric acid secretion since the introduction of H2-receptor antagonists. The risk of long-term hypergastrinaemia has only been considered for about 5 years. The reason for this was the demonstration that gastric carcinoids (ECLomas) observed after life-long treatment of rats with the proton pump inhibitor omeprazole could also be produced in rats by other methods leading to long-lasting profound hypergastrinaemia. Such methods were the 80% resection of the oxyntic mucosa or feeding of ranitidine (2000 mg/day) for 2 years. The endocrine tumours corresponded to the gastric carcinoids found in patients with long-lasting hypergastrinaemia due to pernicious anaemia or with a gastrinoma as part of the MEN I syndrome. Neither in animals nor in man could other endocrine tumours or adenocarcinomas of the gastrointestinal tract be related to hypergastrinaemia. Epidemiologic data do not support gastrin dependence of adenocarcinoma of the stomach or the colon. Experimental findings of gastrin effects on tumour growth in vivo and in vitro have been contradictory and may be explained by the presence of gastrin receptors on tumour cells and the role of gastrin as an autocrine growth factor in some of these tumours. Since acid blockade by proton pump inhibitors or H2-receptor blockers dose-dependently increase serum gastrin levels, patients with ranitidine-resistant peptic ulceration receiving long-term treatment with high-dose omeprazole have been followed up with serial gastric biopsy specimens for up to 5 years. Complete healing, moderate hypergastrinaemia, and a slight hyperplasia but no dysplasia of the ECL cells in the oxyntic mucosa have been observed, which seemed to be correlated to chronic gastritis progressing over the years. Despite these negative findings excessive hypergastrinaemia by overdosage of potent drugs for inhibition of gastric secretion should be avoided and monitoring of plasma gastrin levels is recommended in case of long-term treatment.

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