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To assess gastric acid secretion, acid output from the stomach is measured in a fasting state and after injection of a drug which stimulates gastric acid secretion.
Basal acid output (BAO) is the amount of hydrochloric acid (HCl) secreted in the absence of any external stimuli (visual, olfactory, or auditory).
Maximum acid output (MAO) is the amount of hydrochloric acid secreted by the stomach following stimulation by pentagastrin. MAO is calculated from the first four 15-minute samples after stimulation.
Peak acid output (PAO) is calculated from the two highest consecutive 15-minute samples. It indicates greatest possible acid secretory capacity and is preferred over MAO as it is more reproducible.
Acidity is estimated by titration.
Collection of Sample
All drugs that affect gastric acid secretion (e.g. antacids, anticholinergics, cholinergics, H2-receptor antagonists, antihistamines, tranquilizers, antidepressants, and carbonic anhydrase inhibitors) should be withheld for 24 hours before the test. Proton pump inhibitors should be discontinued 5 days prior to the test. Patient should be relaxed and free from all sources of sensory stimulation.
Patient should drink or eat nothing after midnight.
Gastric juice can be aspirated through an oral or nasogastric tube (polyvinyl chloride, silicone, or polyurethane) or during endoscopy.
Oral or nasogastric tube (Figure 855.1) is commonly used. It is a flexible tube having a small diameter and a bulbous end that is made heavy by a small weight of lead. The end is perforated with small holes to allow entry of gastric juice into the tube. As the end is radiopaque, the tube can be positioned in the most dependent part of the stomach under fluoroscopic or X-ray guidance. The tube is lubricated and can be introduced either through the mouth or the nose. The patient is either sitting or reclining on left side. The tube has three or four markings on its outer surface that correspond with distance of the tip of the tube from the teeth, i.e. 40 cm (tip to cardioesophageal junction), 50 cm (body of stomach), 57 cm (pyloric antrum), and 65 cm (duodenum). The position of the tube can be verified either by fluoroscope or by ‘water recovery test’. In the latter test, 50 ml of water is introduced through the tube and aspirated again; recovery of > 90% of water is indicative of proper placement. The tube is usually positioned in the antrum. A syringe is attached to the outer end of the tube for the aspiration of gastric juice.
Figure 855.1 Oral or nasogastric Ryles tube
Figure 855.1 Oral or nasogastric Ryle’s tube. The tube is marked at 40, 50, 57, and 65 cm with radiopaque lines for accurate placement. The tip is bulbous and contains a small weight of lead to assist the passage during intubation and to know the position under fluoroscopy or X-ray guidance. There are four perforations or eyes to aspirate contents from the stomach through a syringe attached to the base
For estimation of BAO, sample is collected in the morning after 12-hour overnight fast. Gastric secretion that has accumulated overnight is aspirated and discarded. This is followed by aspiration of gastric secretions at 15-minute intervals for 1 hour (i.e. total 4 consecutive samples are collected). All the samples are centrifuged to remove any particulate matter. Each 15-minute sample is analyzed for volume, pH, and acidity. The acid output in the four samples is totaled and the result is expressed as concentration of acid in milliequivalents per hour or in mmol per hour.
After the collection of gastric juice for determination of BAO, patient is given a subcutaneous or intramuscular injection of pentagastrin (6 μg/kg of body weight), and immediately afterwards, gastric secretions are aspirated at 15-minute intervals for 1 hour (for estimation of MAO or PAO). MAO is calculated from the first four 15-minute samples after stimulation. PAO is calculated from two consecutive 15-minute samples showing highest acidity.
Box 855.1 Determination of basal acid output, maximum acid output, and peak acid output
  • Basal acid output (BAO)= Total acid content in all four 15-minute basal samples in mEq/L
  • Maximum acid output (MAO) = Total acid content in all four 15-minute post-pentagastrin samples in mEq/L
  • Peak acid output (PAO) = Sum of two consecutive 15-minute post-pentagastrin samples showing highest acidity ×2 (mEq/L)
Gastric acidity is estimated by titration, with the end point being determined either by noting the change in color of the indicator solution or till the desired pH is reached.
In titration, a solution of alkali (0.1 N sodium hydroxide) is added from a graduated vessel (burette) to a known volume of acid (i.e. gastric juice) till the end point or equivalence point of reaction is reached. The concentration of acid is then determined from the concentration and volume of alkali required to neutralize the particular volume of gastric juice. Concentration of acid is expressed in terms of milliequivalents per liter or mmol per liter.
Free acidity refers to the concentration of HCl present in a free, uncombined form in a solution. The volume of alkali added to the gastric juice till the Topfer’s reagent (an indicator added earlier to the gastric juice) changes color or when the pH (as measured by the pH meter) reaches 3.5 is a measure of free acidity. A screening test can be carried out for the presence of free HCl in the gastric juice. If red color develops after addition of a drop of Topfer’s reagent to an aliquot of gastric juice, free HCl is present and the diagnosis of pernicious anaemia (achlorhydria) can be excluded.
Combined acidity refers to the amount of HCl combined with proteins and mucin and also includes small amount of weak acids present in gastric juice.
Total acidity is the sum of free and combined acidity. The amount of alkali added to the gastric juice till phenolphthalein indicator (added earlier to the gastric juice) changes color is a measure of total acidity (Box 855.1).
Interpretation of Results
  1. Volume: Normal total volume is 20-100 ml (usually < 50 ml). Causes of increased volume of gastric juice are—
    • Delayed emptying of stomach: pyloric stenosis
    • Increased gastric secretion: duodenal ulcer, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome.
  2. Color: Normal gastric secretion is colorless, with a faintly pungent odor. Fresh blood (due to trauma, or recent bleeding from ulcer or cancer) is red in color. Old hemorrhage produces a brown, coffee-ground like appearance (due to formation of acid hematin). Bile regurgitation produces a yellow or green color.
  3. pH: Normal pH is 1.5 to 3.5. In pernicious anemia, pH is greater than 7.0 due to absence of HCl.
  4. Basal acid output:
    • Normal: Up to 5 mEq/hour.
    • Duodenal ulcer: 5-15 mEq/hour.
    • Zollinger-Ellison syndrome: >20 mEq/hour.
    Normal BAO is seen in gastric ulcer and in some patients with duodenal ulcer.
  5. Peak acid output:
    • Normal: 1-20 mEq/hour.
    • Duodenal ulcer: 20-60 mEq/hour.
    • Zollinger-Ellison syndrome: > 60 mEq/hour.
    • Achlorhydria: 0 mEq/hour.
    Normal PAO is seen in gastric ulcer and gastric carcinoma. Values up to 60 mEq/hour can occur in some normal individuals and in some patients with Zollinger-Ellison syndrome.
    In pernicious anemia, there is no acid output due to gastric mucosal atrophy. Achlorhydria should be diagnosed only if there is no free HCl even after maximum stimulation.
  6. Ratio of basal acid output to peak acid output (BAO/PAO):
    • Normal: < 0.20 (or < 20%).
    • Gastric or duodenal ulcer: 0.20-0.40 (20-40%).
    • Duodenal ulcer: 0.40-0.60 (40-60%).
    • Zollinger-Ellison syndrome: > 0.60 (> 60%).
    Normal values occur in gastric ulcer or gastric carcinoma.
Conditions associated with change in gastric acid output are listed in Table 855.1.
It is to be noted that values of acid output are not diagnostic by themselves and should be correlated with clinical, radiological, and endoscopic features.
Table 855.1 Causes of alterations in gastric acid output
Increased gastric acid output Decreased gastric acid output
• Duodenal ulcer Chronic atrophic gastritis
• Zollinger-Ellison syndrome     1. Pernicious anemia
Hyperplasia of antral G cells     2. Rheumatoid arthritis
Systemic mastocytosis     3. Thyrotoxicosis
• Basophilic leukemia • Gastric ulcer
  • Gastric carcinoma
  • Chronic renal failure
  • Post-vagotomy
  • Post-antrectomy

Additional Info

  • Reference(s):
    • Burtis CA, Ashwood ER (Eds). Tietz Fundamentals of Clinical Chemistry, 4th ed. Philadelphia: WB Saunders Co, 1996.
    • Drossman DA, Shaheen NJ, Grimm IS (Eds). Handbook of Gastroenterologic Procedures (4th Ed). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2005.
    • Rosenfeld L. Gastric tubes, meals, acid, and analysisrise and decline. Clin Chem 1997;43:837-42.
    • Wallach J. Interpretation of Diagnostic tests (7th Ed). Philadelphia. Lippincott: Williams and Wilkins, 2000.
    • Wolfe MM, Soll AH. The physiology of gastric acid secretion. N Engl J Med 1988;319:1707-14.
Last modified on Friday, 08 September 2017 01:55
Dayyal Dg.

Medical Laboratory Technician at National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases, Karachi. | Author/Writer/Blogger

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    Anatomically, stomach is divided into four parts: cardia, fundus, body, and pyloric part. Cardia is the upper part surrounding the entrance of the esophagus and is lined by the mucus-secreting epithelium. The epithelium of the fundus and the body of the stomach is composed of different cell types including: (i) mucus-secreting cells which protect gastric mucosa from self-digestion by forming an overlying thick layer of mucus, (ii) parietal cells which secrete hydrochloric acid and intrinsic factor, and (iii) peptic cells or chief cells which secrete the proteolytic enzyme pepsinogen. Pyloric part is divided into pyloric antrum and pyloric canal. It is lined by mucus-secreting cells and gastrin-secreting neuroendocrine cells (G cells) (Figure 859.1).
    Figure 859.1 Parts of stomach and their lining cells
    Figure 859.1 Parts of stomach and their lining cells 
    In the stomach, ingested food is mechanically and chemically broken down to form semi-digested liquid called chyme. Following relaxation of pyloric sphincter, chyme passes into the duodenum.
    There are three phases of gastric acid secretion: cephalic, gastric, and intestinal.
    • Cephalic or neurogenic phase: This phase is initiated by the sight, smell, taste, or thought of food that causes stimulation of vagal nuclei in the brain. Vagus nerve directly stimulates parietal cells to secrete acid; in addition, it also stimulates antral G cells to secrete gastrin in blood (which is also a potent stimulus for gastric acid secretion) (Figure 859.2). Cephalic phase is abolished by vagotomy.
    • Gastric phase: Entry of swallowed food into the stomach causes gastric distension and induces gastric phase. Distension of antrum and increase in pH due to neutralization of acid by food stimulate antral G cells to secrete gastrin into the circulation. Gastrin, in turn, causes release of hydrochloric acid from parietal cells.
    • Intestinal phase: Entry of digested proteins into the duodenum causes an increase in acid output from the stomach. It is thought that certain hormones and absorbed amino acids stimulate parietal cells to secrete acid.
    The secretion from the stomach is called as gastric juice. The chief constituents of the gastric juice are:
    • Hydrochloric acid (HCl): This is secreted by the parietal cells of the fundus and the body of the stomach. HCl provides the high acidic pH necessary for activation of pepsinogen to pepsin. Gastric acid secretion is stimulated by histamine, acetylcholine, and gastrin (Figure 859.2). HCl kills most microorganisms entering the stomach and also denatures proteins (breaks hydrogen bonds making polypeptide chains to unfold). Its secretion is inhibited by somatostatin (secreted by D cells in pancreas and by mucosa of intestine), gastric inhibitory peptide (secreted by K cells in duodenum and jejunum), prostaglandin, and secretin (secreted by S cells in duodenum).
    • Pepsin: Pepsin is secreted by chief cells in stomach. Pepsin causes partial digestion of proteins leading to the formation of large polypeptide molecules (optimal function at pH 1.0 to 3.0). Its secretion is enhanced by vagal stimulation.
    • Mucus
    • Intrinsic factor (IF): IF is necessary for absorption of vitamin B12 in the terminal ileum. It is secreted by parietal cells of stomach.
    Figure 859.2 Stimulation of gastric acid secretion
    Figure 859.2 Stimulation of gastric acid secretion. Three receptors on parietal cells stimulate acid secretion: histamine (H2) receptor, acetylcholine or cholinergic receptor, and gastrin/CCK-B receptor. Histamine is released by enterochromaffin-like cells in lamina propria. Acetylcholine is released from nerve endings. Gastrin is released from G cells in antrum (in response to amino acids in food, antral distention, and gastrin-releasing peptide). After binding to receptors, H+ is secreted in exchange for K+ by proton pump
    • Gastric intubation for gastric analysis is contraindicated in esophageal stricture or varices, active nasopharyngeal disease, diverticula, malignancy, recent history of severe gastric hemorrhage, hypertension, aortic aneurysm, cardiac arrhythmias, congestive cardiac failure, or non-cooperative patient.
    • Pyloric stenosis: Obstruction of gastric outlet can elevate gastric acid output due to raised gastrin (following antral distension).
    • Pentagastrin stimulation is contraindicated in cases with allergy to pentagastrin, and recent severe gastric hemorrhge due to peptic ulcer disease.
    Gastric analysis is not a commonly performed procedure because of following reasons:
    • It is an invasive and cumbersome technique that is traumatic and unpleasant for the patient.
    • Information obtained is not diagnostic in itself.
    • Availability of better tests for diagnosis such as endoscopy and radiology (for suspected peptic ulcer or malignancy); serum gastrin estimation (for ZE syndrome); vitamin assays, Schilling test, and antiparietal cell antibodies (for pernicious anemia); and tests for Helicobacter pylori infection (in duodenal or gastric ulcer).
    • Availability of better medical line of treatment that obviates need for surgery in many patients.
    1. Hollander’s test (Insulin hypoglycemia test): In the past, this test was used for confirmation of completeness of vagotomy (done for duodenal ulcer).

      Hypoglycemia is a potent stimulus for gastric acid secretion and is mediated by vagus nerve. This response is abolished by vagotomy.

      In this test, after determining BAO, insulin is administered intravenously (0.15-0.2 units/kg) and acid output is estimated every 15 minutes for 2 hours (8 post-stimulation samples). Vagotomy is considered as complete if, after insulin-induced hypoglycemia (blood glucose < 45 mg/dl), no acid output is observed within 45 minutres.

      The test gives reliable results only if blood glucose level falls below 50 mg/dl at some time following insulin injection. It is best carried out after 3-6 months of vagotomy.

      The test is no longer recommended because of the risk associated with hypoglycemia. Myocardial infarction, shock, and death have also been reported.

    2. Fractional test meal: In the past, test meals (e.g. oat meal gruel, alcohol) were administered orally to stimulate gastric secretion and determine MAO or PAO. Currently, parenteral pentagastrin is the gastric stimulant of choice.

    3. Tubeless gastric analysis: This is an indirect and rapid method for determining output of free hydrochloric acid in gastric juice. In this test, a cationexchange resin tagged to a dye (azure A) is orally administered. In the stomach, the dye is displaced from the resin by the free hydrogen ions of the hydrochloric acid. The displaced azure A is absorbed in the small intestine, enters the bloodstream, and is excreted in urine. Urinary concentration of the dye is measured photometrically or by visual comparison with known color standards. The quantity of the dye excreted is proportional to the gastric acid output. However, if kidney or liver function is impaired, false results may be obtained. The test is no longer in use.

    4. Spot check of gastric pH: According to some investigators, spot determination of pH of fasting gastric juice (obtained by nasogastric intubation) can detect the presence of hypochlorhydria (if pH>5.0 in men or >7.0 in women).

    5. Congo red test during esophagogastroduodenoscopy: This test is done to determine the completeness of vagotomy. Congo red dye is sprayed into the stomach during esophagogastroduodenoscopy; if it turns red, it indicates presence of functional parietal cells in stomach with capacity of producing acid.
    • Volume of gastric juice: 20-100 ml
    • Appearance: Clear
    • pH: 1.5 to 3.5
    • Basal acid output: Up to 5 mEq/hour
    • Peak acid output: 1 to 20 mEq/hour
    • Ratio of basal acid output to peak acid output: <0.20 or < 20%

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