What is Zollinger-Ellison syndrome?

Zollinger-Ellison syndrome is a condition in which one or more tumors called gastrinomas form and oversecrete (produce too much of) a hormone called gastrin. High levels of gastrin cause the stomach to overproduce gastric acid, which can lead to peptic ulcers.

A peptic ulcer is a breakdown of the mucosal barrier in the lining of the stomach or the first part of the small intestine (the duodenum). This breakdown causes deep penetrating ulcers that can sometimes bring about pain, bleeding, nausea, dyspepsia (painful digestion), unintended weight loss and/or diarrhea.

What causes Zollinger-Ellison syndrome?

The majority (80 percent) of gastrinomas are sporadic (random), but 20 to 30 percent occur in association with a genetic (inherited) disorder called multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1). Zollinger-Ellison syndrome is very rare, and occurs most often in men aged 25 to 50.

What are the symptoms of Zollinger-Ellison syndrome?

The signs and symptoms of Zollinger-Ellison include:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen
  • Bloating and burping
  • Diarrhea
  • Gastroesophageal reflux (backup of stomach contents into the esophagus [food tube] that causes pain or a burning feeling)
  • Loss of appetite and unintended weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Steatorrhea (increased levels of fats within the stool)

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