Aging, the gastrointestinal tract, and risk of acid-related disease

Am J Med. 2004 Sep 6;117 Suppl 5A:8S-13S. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2004.07.019.


It is estimated that by 2020, >16% of people in the United States will be > or =65 years of age and that nearly 20 million will be >85 years of age. Aging imparts a variety of physiologic changes in the oropharynx, esophagus, and stomach that increase the risk for esophageal and gastrointestinal disorders. Older individuals also tend to have a higher prevalence of comorbid factors, such as Helicobacter pylori infection, smoking, presence of other diseases, or use of medications (e.g., nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs [NSAIDs]) that increase their risk for acid-related disorders. Given these physiologic and comorbidity factors, the elderly are at higher risk for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), pill-induced esophagitis, peptic ulcer disease, and complications related to the use of NSAIDs. Unfortunately, in the elderly patient with these disorders--even those with severe disease or complications--symptom presentation may be subtle or atypical, resulting in a delayed diagnosis. Endoscopy remains the "gold standard" for the identification of mucosal disease and should be performed in all patients with "new-onset" or persistent symptoms who are >45 years of age, as well as in individuals of any age who present with alarm symptoms, such as weight loss, vomiting, anemia, dysphagia, or evidence of gastrointestinal bleeding. In general, the treatment of older individuals with peptic ulcer or GERD and its complications is similar to that of younger individuals. Proton pump inhibitors are the mainstay of therapy for symptom relief, healing of erosive esophagitis, resolution of peptic ulceration, reduction of the risk for NSAID-induced mucosal damage, and prevention of disease recurrence.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Anti-Ulcer Agents / therapeutic use
  • Digestive System
  • Esophagoscopy / methods
  • Female
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / diagnosis*
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / drug therapy
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / epidemiology*
  • Gastroscopy / methods
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sex Distribution
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Anti-Ulcer Agents