Objective: To describe the pathogenesis of gastrointestinal cytomegalovirus (CMV) disease, the types and locations of gastrointestinal lesions, the clinical settings in which they occur, and the specific methods available to diagnose and treat the disease.
Data sources: Relevant English-language articles were identified through a MEDLINE search from 1985 to 1992. Articles referenced in the bibliographies of these articles and others were searched by hand.
Study selection: All articles that documented the occurrence of gastrointestinal CMV infection in humans, based on the finding of typical cytomegalic cells in histologic specimens, were selected for review.
Data extraction: Studies were grouped by content pertaining to pathogenesis, clinical setting, gastrointestinal location, diagnosis, or treatment.
Data synthesis: Gastrointestinal CMV disease is an erosive or ulcerative process that can occur at any location in the gastrointestinal tract, from mouth to rectum. Cytomegalovirus infection of columnar epithelial cells, endothelial cells, myocytes, and fibroblasts causes tissue destruction and ulceration. Serious CMV disease most frequently occurs with immune deficiency, such as the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, after organ transplantation, after cancer chemotherapy, and after steroid therapy. Symptoms and signs depend on which part of the gastrointestinal tract is involved. Diagnosis depends on a positive mucosal biopsy that shows the presence of CMV by histopathologic or other techniques. In patients with persistent immune deficiency, progressive intestinal disease and death are frequent. Treatment with ganciclovir or foscarnet often heals intestinal lesions.
Conclusions: Internists should be aware of the various clinical settings and locations in the gastrointestinal tract in which CMV disease occurs. Patients with immune deficiency and gastrointestinal signs and symptoms should have imaging tests and mucosal biopsies to investigate the possibility of CMV intestinal disease. Treatment with antiviral chemotherapy improves outcome in many patients.