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Am J Emerg Med. 2004 Nov;22(7):612-4.

A new pepsin assay to detect pulmonary aspiration of gastric contents among newly intubated patients.

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Department of Emergency Medicine, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care, Temple University Hospital, 3401 N. Broad Street, 10th Floor Jones Hall, Philadelphia, PA 19140, USA.


Aspiration of gastric contents by endotracheally intubated patients is associated with significant morbidity and mortality. Previous studies suggest that pepsin in tracheal aspirates may be a valuable marker of occult aspiration. We sought to show the sensitivity and specificity of a new, pepsin-specific assay in humans. A prospective, case-controlled study was conducted with subjects serving as their own controls. After planned endotracheal and nasogastric intubation for elective surgery, 20 participants had tracheal and gastric aspirates withdrawn. A blinded investigator tested samples for the presence of pepsin using the assay. Positive samples were then tested with pepstatin, a specific pepsin inhibitor, to ensure that positive results were due to pepsin. All tracheal aspirates tested negative and all gastric aspirates tested positive for pepsin. Pepstatin halted pepsin activity in all positive samples, ensuring that positive results were due to pepsin. A pepsin-specific assay is extremely reliable for detecting gastric contents in humans.

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