Objective: To investigate the variability in serum pepsinogen levels in an asymptomatic population.
Design: Cross-sectional survey of 420 men aged 18-63 years, without symptoms or a history of gastric disease, recruited from four factories in Stoke-on-Trent.
Methods: During an interview, data on history of gastric health, 'lifestyle' and occupation were collected, blood samples were taken for measurement of serum pepsinogen and anti-Helicobacter pylori antibody levels and height and weight were measured.
Results: Extreme (low/high) levels of pepsinogens A and C, indicative of chronic gastritis, were found in 24 (5.7%) and 61 (14.5%) of the participants, respectively. Low A-C ratios, indicative of moderate or severe gastric atrophy, were found in 13 (3.1%) participants. Of the variables examined, Helicobacter pylori serology had the strongest influence on serum pepsinogen levels. Serum pepsinogen A and C levels were significantly higher in the 33.6% of participants who were seropositive. The effect was more marked for pepsinogen C; thus, A-C ratios were lower in seropositive individuals. In seronegative participants, both pepsinogen A and pepsinogen C levels increased with increasing age; pepsinogen A levels increased with increasing height and were higher in smokers, but decreased with increasing weight. The effect of smoking on pepsinogen A levels was also detectable in seropositive individuals, but was considerably less marked. Among seronegative participants, those employed on the 'shop-floor' in manual jobs had higher serum pepsinogen C levels and lower A-C ratios than office-based workers.
Conclusion: H. pylori serology was a major source of variation in serum pepsinogen levels, but causes of gastritis other than H. pylori were indicated. Independent of these effects, serum pepsinogen levels may also vary with age, height and weight. Screening of serum pepsinogen levels in the general population may identify 5-15% who require further investigation. Other 'filters' may be required in conjunction with serum pepsinogen levels to identify those needing investigation for significant gastric pathology.