Zollinger-Ellison syndrome. Clinical presentation in 261 patients

Medicine (Baltimore). 2000 Nov;79(6):379-411. doi: 10.1097/00005792-200011000-00004.


We prospectively evaluated the initial presenting symptoms in 261 patients with Zollinger-Ellison syndrome (ZES) over a 25-year period. Twenty-two percent of the patients had multiple endocrine neoplasia-type 1 (MEN-1) with ZES. Mean age at onset was 41.1 +/- 0.7 years, with MEN-1 patients presenting at a younger age than those with sporadic ZES (p < 0.0001). Three percent of the patients had onset of the disease < age 20 years, and 7% > 60 years. A mean delay to diagnosis of 5.2 +/- 0.4 years occurred in all patients. A shorter duration of symptoms was noted in female patients and in patients with liver metastases. Abdominal pain and diarrhea were the most common symptoms, present in 75% and 73% of patients, respectively. Heartburn and weight loss, which were uncommonly reported in early series, were present in 44% and 17% of patients, respectively. Gastrointestinal bleeding was the initial presentation in a quarter of the patients. Patients rarely presented with only 1 symptom (11%); pain and diarrhea was the most frequent combination, occurring in 55% of patients. An important presenting sign that should suggest ZES is prominent gastric body folds, which were noted on endoscopy in 94% of patients; however, esophageal stricture and duodenal or pyloric scarring, reported in numerous case reports, were noted in only 4%-10%. Patients with MEN-1 presented less frequently with pain and bleeding and more frequently with nephrolithiasis. Comparing the clinical presentation before the introduction of histamine H2-receptor antagonists (pre-1980, n = 36), after the introduction of histamine H2-receptor antagonists (1981-1989, n = 118), and after the introduction of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) (> 1990, n = 106) demonstrates no change in age of onset; delay in diagnosis; frequency of pain, diarrhea, weight loss; or frequency of complications of severe peptic disease (bleeding, perforations, esophageal strictures, pyloric scarring). Since the introduction of histamine H2-receptor antagonists, fewer patients had a previous history of gastric acid-reducing surgery or total gastrectomy. Only 1 patient evaluated after 1980 had a total gastrectomy, and this was done in 1977. The location of the primary tumor in general had a minimal effect on the clinical presentation, causing no effect on the age at presentation, delay in diagnosis, frequency of nephrolithiasis, or severity of disease (strictures, perforations, peptic ulcers, pyloric scarring). Disease extent had a minimal effect on symptoms, with only bleeding being more frequent in patients with localized disease. Patients with advanced disease presented at a later age and with a shorter disease history (p = 0.001), were less likely to have MEN-1 (p = 0.0087), and tended to have diarrhea more frequently (p = 0.079). A correct diagnosis of ZES was made by the referring physician initially in only 3% of the patients. The most common misdiagnosis made were idiopathic peptic ulcer disease (71%), idiopathic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) (7%), and chronic idiopathic diarrhea (7%). Other less common misdiagnosis were Crohn disease (2%) and various diarrhea diseases (celiac sprue [3%], irritable bowel syndrome [3%], infectious diarrhea [2%], and lactose intolerance [1%]). Other medical disorders were present in 55% of all patients; patients with sporadic disease had fewer other medical disorders than patients with MEN-1 (45% versus 90%, p < 0.00001). Hyperparathyroidism and a previous history of kidney stones were significantly more frequent in patients with MEN-1 than in those with sporadic ZES. Pulmonary disorders and other malignancies were also more common in patients with MEN-1. These results demonstrate that abdominal pain, diarrhea, and heartburn are the most common presenting symptoms in ZES and that heartburn and diarrhea are more common than previously reported. The presence of weight loss especially with abdominal pain, diarrhea, or heartburn is an important clue suggesting the presence of gastrinoma. The presence of prominent gastric body folds, a clinical sign that has not been appreciated, is another important clue to the diagnosis of ZES. Patients with MEN-1 presented at an earlier age; however, in general, the initial symptoms were similar to patients without MEN-1. Gastrinoma extent and location have minimal effects on the clinical presentation. Overall, neither the introduction of successful antisecretory therapy nor widespread publication about ZES, attempting to increase awareness, has shortened the delay in diagnosis or reduced the incidence of patients presenting with peptic complications. The introduction of successful antisecretory therapy, however, has dramatically decreased the rate of surgery in controlling the acid secretion and likely led to patients presenting with less severe symptoms and fewer complications. (ABSTRACT TRUNCATED)

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Pain / etiology
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Age of Onset
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Diagnostic Errors
  • Diarrhea / etiology
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / etiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Type 1 / complications
  • Nausea / etiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Time Factors
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Vomiting / etiology
  • Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome / complications*
  • Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome / drug therapy
  • Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome / etiology