Zollinger–Ellison syndrome

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Zollinger–Ellison syndrome
ZES endo.jpg
Endoscopy image of multiple small ulcers in the distal duodenum in a patient with Zollinger–Ellison syndrome
Classification and external resources
Specialty endocrinology
ICD-10 E16.4
ICD-9-CM 251.5
MedlinePlus 000325
eMedicine med/2437 ped/2472
Patient UK Zollinger–Ellison syndrome
MeSH D015043

Zollinger–Ellison syndrome (ZES) is a disease in which tumors cause the stomach to produce too much acid, resulting in peptic ulcers. Symptoms include abdominal pain and diarrhea.

The syndrome is caused by a gastrinoma, a neuroendocrine tumor that secretes a hormone called gastrin.[1] The tumor causes excessive production of gastric acid, which leads to the growth of gastric mucosa and proliferation of parietal and ECL cells.

ZES may occur on its own or as part of an autosomal dominant syndrome called multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN 1). The primary tumor is usually located in the pancreas, duodenum or abdominal lymph nodes, but ectopic locations (e.g., heart, ovary, gallbladder, liver, and kidney) have also been described.[2]

Signs and symptoms[edit]

Patients with Zollinger–Ellison syndrome may experience abdominal pain and diarrhea.[1] The diagnosis is also suspected in patients who have severe ulceration of the stomach and small bowel, especially if they fail to respond to treatment.[citation needed]

  • Chronic diarrhea, including steatorrhea (fatty stools)
  • Pain in the esophagus, especially between and after meals at night
  • Nausea
  • Wheezing
  • Vomiting blood
  • Malnourishment
  • Loss of appetite

Gastrinomas may occur as single tumors or as multiple small tumors. About one-half to two-thirds of single gastrinomas are malignant tumors that most commonly spread to the liver and to lymph nodes near the pancreas and small bowel.

Nearly 25 percent of patients with gastrinomas have multiple tumors as part of a condition called multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN 1). MEN I patients have tumors in their pituitary gland and parathyroid glands, in addition to tumors of the pancreas.[citation needed]


Gastrin works on the parietal cells of the gastric glands, causing them to secrete more hydrogen ions into the stomach lumen. In addition, gastrin acts as a trophic factor for parietal cells, causing parietal cell hyperplasia. Thus, there is an increase in the number of acid-secreting cells, and each of these cells produces acid at a higher rate. The increase in acidity contributes to the development of peptic ulcers in the stomach and duodenum (first portion of the small bowel).[citation needed]


Zollinger–Ellison syndrome may be suspected when the above symptoms prove resistant to treatment, when the symptoms are especially suggestive of the syndrome, or when endoscopy is suggestive. The diagnosis is made through several laboratory tests and imaging studies:[citation needed]

  • Secretin stimulation test, which measures evoked gastrin levels
  • Fasting gastrin levels on at least three separate occasions[3]
  • Gastric acid secretion and pH (normal basal gastric acid secretion is less than 10 mEq/hour; in Zollinger–Ellison patients, it is usually more than 15 mEq/hour)[4]
  • An increased level of chromogranin A is a common marker of neuroendocrine tumors.

In addition, the source of the increased gastrin production must be determined using MRI or somatostatin receptor scintigraphy.[5]


Proton pump inhibitors (such as omeprazole and lansoprazole) and histamine H2-receptor antagonists (such as famotidine and ranitidine) are used to slow acid secretion. Once gastric acid is suppressed, symptoms normally improve.


Sporadic reports of unusual cases of peptic ulceration in the presence of pancreatic tumors occurred prior to 1955, but R. M. Zollinger and E. H. Ellison, surgeons at The Ohio State University, were the first to postulate a causal relationship between these findings. The American Surgical Association meeting in Philadelphia in April 1955 heard the first public description of the syndrome, and Zollinger and Ellison subsequently published their findings in Annals of Surgery.[6]


  1. ^ a b "Zollinger-Ellison syndrome". Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 2017-02-27. 
  2. ^ Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome at eMedicine
  3. ^ http://patient.info/doctor/zollinger-ellison-syndrome
  4. ^ Elizabeth D Agabegi; Agabegi, Steven S (2008). Step-Up to Medicine. Step-Up. Hagerstwon, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 192. ISBN 0-7817-7153-6. 
  5. ^ Jensen RT (2004). "Gastrinomas: advances in diagnosis and management". Neuroendocrinology. 80 Suppl 1: 23–7. PMID 15477712. doi:10.1159/000080736. 
  6. ^ Zollinger RM, Ellison EH (1955). "Primary peptic ulcerations of the jejunum associated with islet cell tumors of the pancreas". Ann. Surg. 142 (4): 709–23; discussion, 724–8. PMC 1465210Freely accessible. PMID 13259432. doi:10.1097/00000658-195510000-00015.