Background: Stress lesions of the upper gastrointestinal tract are well recognised in adult patients in intensive care. There are no controlled studies of the incidence of these lesions and the effects or side effects of prophylactic treatment in high risk paediatric patients.
Methods: 79 paediatric patients in intensive care were studied prospectively after operation for congenital heart disease. All patients had at least one endoscopic examination. The first 36 patients were not given prophylactic medication: later 43 children were treated randomly either with pirenzepine (n = 21) or with famotidine (n = 22). Gastric and tracheal secretions were taken daily for culture in those patients given prophylactic medication.
Results: Severe inflammation or ulceration of the upper gastrointestinal tract was less common in those patients who were given prophylactic medication (18% v 44%). Prophylactic treatment did not, however, reduce the total incidence of postoperative stress lesions: it shifted the severity of these changes towards mild lesions and reduced the incidence of ulcerations from 25% to 2%. None of the patients developed a pneumonia caused by an organism previously isolated from the stomach.
Conclusions: The incidence of stress lesions in children after cardiac surgery resembles that in high risk adult patients. Children in intensive care after cardiac surgery should be treated prophylactically with famotidine or pirenzepine until they can be fed by mouth.