Background and aims: Peptic ulcer disease (PUD) usually manifests as either dyspepsia or less commonly with complications such as bleeding. Patients with bleeding ulcers are often asymptomatic until the bleeding occurs. A lack of dyspeptic symptoms might be explained by impaired visceral sensory function. The aim of this study was to assess symptom profiles and compare visceral sensory thresholds in patients with bleeding peptic ulcer (BPU) and uncomplicated PUD.
Methods: A total of 30 patients with BPU, 25 with uncomplicated PUD and 32 healthy controls (HC) without dyspeptic symptoms were recruited. In ulcer patients after at least 8 weeks of ulcer treatment and an 8-hr fast, visceral sensitivity was tested using a standardized nutrient challenge with an enteral feeding solution. Five key symptoms (fullness, abdominal pain, retrosternal/abdominal burning, nausea, and regurgitation) were assessed using visual analog scales (0-100).
Results: Twenty-five of the 30 (83%, 95% confidence interval 65-94%) patients with BPU had no dyspeptic symptoms compared with none of the 25 uncomplicated PUD patients. Patients with BPU and HC had significantly lower symptom responses (BPU 127.6 +/- 24.6, HC 89.8 +/- 13.9) to the nutrient challenge than uncomplicated PUD patients (338.4 +/- 56.2, P < 0.0001). Patients with dyspeptic symptoms (30/55) had significantly higher symptom responses (327.3 +/- 47.8) than the 25/55 patients without symptoms (98.9 +/- 23.4, P < 0.0001).
Conclusion: Most patients with BPU present without dyspeptic symptoms. Even after healing of the ulcer, patients with uncomplicated PUD have a significantly augmented symptom response to a standardized nutrient challenge compared to patients with complicated ulcers and HC. Differences in the processing of upper gastrointestinal visceral afferents may play a major role in the clinical presentation (complicated vs uncomplicated) of PUD.