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Med Clin North Am. 1991 Jul;75(4):799-814.

Peptic ulcer pathophysiology.

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Department of Medicine, University of California, School of Medicine, Los Angeles.


Despite extensive research, the etiology of peptic ulcer disease remains unclear. Given the multiple processes that control acid and pepsin secretion and defense and repair of the gastroduodenal mucosa, it is likely that the cause of ulceration differs between individuals. Acid and pepsin appear to be necessary but not sufficient ingredients in the ulcerative process. It is clear that the majority of gastric ulcers and a substantial number of duodenal ulcers do not have increased gastric acid secretion. Recent research has focused more on protection and repair of the stomach and duodenum. NSAIDs cause a significant number of gastric and duodenal ulcers; this is probably due to inhibition of prostaglandin production with loss of its protective effects. In the absence of NSAIDs and gastrinoma, it appears that most gastric ulcers and all duodenal ulcers occur in the setting of H. pylori infection. Evidence is mounting in support of H. pylori as a necessary ingredient in the ulcerative process, similar to acid and pepsin. It is not known whether the bacteria or the accompanying inflammation is the more important factor in the pathophysiology. Although the pathophysiology of gastric ulcer and duodenal ulcer is similar, there are clearly differences between the two groups. Duodenal ulcer is typified by H. pylori infection and duodenitis and in many cases impaired duodenal bicarbonate secretion in the face of moderate increases in acid and peptic activity. These facts suggest the following process: increased peptic activity coupled with decreased duodenal buffering capacity may lead to increased mucosal injury and result in gastric metaplasia. In the presence of antral H. pylori, the gastric metaplasia can become colonized and inflamed. The inflammation or the infection itself then disrupts the process of mucosal defense or regeneration resulting in ulceration. A cycle of further injury and increased inflammation with loss of the framework for regeneration may then cause a chronic ulcer. Gastric ulcer often occurs with decreased acid-peptic activity, suggesting that mucosal defensive impairments are more important. The combination of inflammation, protective deficiencies, and moderate amounts of acid and pepsin may be enough to induce ulceration. Many questions remain in understanding the pathophysiology of peptic ulcer disease. The physiology and pathophysiology of mucosal regeneration and the mechanisms by which H. pylori and inflammation disrupt normal gastroduodenal function will be fruitful areas of future investigation.

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