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Gastrointestinal bleeding (GIB) accounts for ~150 hospitalizations per 100,000 population annually in the United States, with upper GIB (UGIB) ~1.5–2 times more common than lower GIB (LGIB) The incidence of GIB has decreased in recent decades, primarily due to a reduction in UGIB, and the mortality has also decreased to <5%. Patients today rarely die from exsanguination, but rather die due to decompensation of other underlying illnesses.

GIB presents as either overt or occult bleeding. Overt GIB is manifested by hematemesis, vomitus of red blood or “coffee-grounds” material; melena, black, tarry, foul-smelling stool; and/or hematochezia, passage of bright red or maroon blood from the rectum. Occult GIB may be identified in the absence of overt bleeding when patients present with symptoms of blood loss or anemia such as lightheadedness, syncope, angina, or dyspnea; or when routine diagnostic evaluation reveals iron deficiency anemia or a positive fecal occult blood test. GIB is also categorized by the site of bleeding as UGIB, LGIB, or obscure GIB if the source is unclear.


Upper Gastrointestinal Sources of Bleeding

(Table 57-1) Peptic ulcers are the most common cause of UGIB, accounting for ~50% of cases. Mallory-Weiss tears account for ~5–10% of cases. The proportion of patients bleeding from varices varies widely from ~5–40%, depending on the population. Hemorrhagic or erosive gastropathy (e.g., due to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs [NSAIDs] or alcohol) and erosive esophagitis often cause mild UGIB, but major bleeding is rare.


Characteristics of an ulcer at endoscopy provide important prognostic information. One-third of patients with active bleeding or a nonbleeding visible vessel have further bleeding that requires urgent surgery if they are treated conservatively. These patients benefit from endoscopic therapy with bipolar electrocoagulation, heater probe, injection therapy (e.g., absolute alcohol, 1:10,000 epinephrine), and/or clips with reductions in bleeding, hospital stay, mortality, and costs. In contrast, patients with clean-based ulcers have rates of recurrent bleeding approaching zero. If stable with no other reason for hospitalization, such patients may be discharged home after endoscopy. Patients without clean-based ulcers usually remain in the hospital for 3 days because most episodes of recurrent bleeding occur within 3 days.

TABLE 57-1Sources of Bleeding in Patients Hospitalized for Upper Gastrointestinal Bleeding

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