Peptic duodenitis

by Jason Wasserman MD PhD FRCPC
April 18, 2022

What is peptic duodenitis?

Peptic duodenitis is an injury associated with inflammation in a part of the small intestinal called the duodenum. It is caused by increased acid production in the stomach. The extra acid spills into the duodenum where it damages the cells in the mucosa. The damage causes abdominal pain which is worse when the stomach is empty and better after a meal. If left untreated, peptic duodenitis can lead to ulcers and bleeding in the duodenum.

What causes increased stomach acid production?

The most common cause of increased acid production is an infection of the stomach by a bacteria called Helicobacter. Other common causes of increased acid production are prolonged use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), smoking, and chronic kidney disease.

How do pathologists make this diagnosis?

The diagnosis of peptic duodenitis is made after a pathologist examines a tissue sample from the inside of the duodenum under the microscope. The tissue sample is removed in a procedure called a biopsy. A tissue sample should also be taken from inside of the stomach to look for Helicobacter. The biopsy is usually performed after the patient is sedated and a camera called an endoscope is inserted into the small bowel.

Pathologists look for the following features to make this diagnosis:

  • Increased numbers of neutrophils in the mucosaNeutrophils are specialized immune cells that fight off infections and help the body heal after an injury. In peptic duodenitis, an increased number of neutrophils are seen in both the epithelium and the lamina propria. Pathologists describe this as acute inflammation.
  • ErosionErosion is a word pathologists use to describe an injury that damages the cells on the surface of a tissue. In the duodenum, erosion means a loss of epithelial cells.
  • Foveolar metaplasia – Foveolar cells are normally found on the inside of the stomach. They are specially designed to protect tissue from the damaging effects of acid. Foveolar metaplasia means that the cells normally found in the epithelium of the duodenum have been replaced by foveolar cells. The duodenum undergoes this change in order to protect itself from the extra acid spilling into the duodenum from the stomach.
  • Brunner gland hyperplasia – Brunner glands are a normal part of the duodenum. They are designed to protect the duodenum from acid. The number of Brunner glands increases in response to the extra acid entering the duodenum. Pathologists describe this change as hyperplasia.

Your pathologist may also order special stains or immunohistochemistry to look for Helicobacter in the tissue sample from the duodenum or the stomach.

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