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Dig Liver Dis. 2000 Mar;32(2):138-51.

Prevention of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug-induced gastrointestinal mucosal injury: risk factors for serious complications.

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Department of Digestive Diseases & Nutrition, General Hospital S. Filippo Neri, Rome, Italy.



1-2% of all patients under non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug therapy are exposed to serious upper gastrointestinal complications. The policy of prevention of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug-induced gastrointestinal mucosal injury by using misoprostol or suppressing acid secretion is still a matter of debate.


To discuss the effectiveness of prophylaxis of a gastrointestinal complication during non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug treatment, according to the number and relevance of risk factors.


A total of 8.843 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, admitted to the widest prospective multicentre mega-trial, on 6-month complication prevention of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug-induced ulcers.


The results are presented in terms of the number of patients to be treated (number needed to treat) in order to prevent one serious upper gastrointestinal complication, and corrected for the number of patients, that receiving the prophylaxis therapy, would lead to one additional withdrawal (number needed to harm).


The base-line risk for a complication strongly depended on the number and relevance of risk factors: history of peptic ulcer disease, of gastrointestinal bleeding, of cardiovascular disease, and age. In the general study population, the relative risk reduction of gastrointestinal complications with misoprostol was 40%: thus the number needed to treat to prevent 1 event was 250 in the experimental period (6 months) or 125 when normalized at one-year treatment (1 year number needed to treat]. When considering the prophylaxis gain in intermediate (risk 1-2%) or high risk subjects (patients with a probability of an event over 2%, for the presence of 1 important risk factor or multiple factors), the 1-year number needed to treat rapidly drops from about 100 to about 17. The number needed to harm for one withdrawal was 18. The number needed to treat corrected for withdrawals in order to avoid major complications rises from 125 to 132 in the general population of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug users; from 102 to 105 in subjects at intermediate risk, such as patients with history of cardiovascular disease; in the groups at high risk, from 26 to 27 (patients with history of peptic ulcer disease), and from 16 to 17 (patients with history of peptic ulcer disease, cardiovascular disease and aged over 65 years).


Patients at intermediate and high risk for complications from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug-induced ulcers should be considered for prophylaxis. In this group of patients, misoprostol prevention of severe complications is effective, and its clinical relevance similar to that of other preventive measures in medical practice.

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