How Important Are Proton Pump Inhibitors for Intensive Care Patients?

A recent randomized, blinded study (M Krag et al. NEJM 2018; 379: 2199-2208, editorial 2263-4) describes the use of proton pump inhibitor (PPI) therapy in adults (n=3298) in the ICU at high risk for gastrointestinal bleeding. High risk features included liver disease, coagulopathy, shock, anticoagulant therapy, renal replacement treatment, and mechanical ventilation.

Key findings:

  • Stress-ulcer bleeding may be less prevalent than in the past, perhaps due to improved ICU care. GI bleeding occurred in 4.2% of placebo-treated patients compared to 2.5% of pantoprazole-treated patients
  • Overall outcomes were essentially identical. At 90 days, 510 patients (31.1%) in the pantoprazole group and 49 (30.4%) in the placebo group had died (RR 1.02).
  • Using a composite event score to weight potential good and adverse effects (eg C diff infection, myocardial infarction, bleeding, pneumonia) of PPI therapy, the authors found that this occurred in 21.9% of pantoprazole group compared with 22.6% of placebo group (22.6%).

Reduction in GI bleeding could be related in part to the more frequent use of enteral feedings.  And, the combination of enteral feeding with the use of PPI treatment may increase the risk of pneumonia.

In the associated commentary, the authors note that “prophylaxis with a PPI, if initiated, should be reserved for seriously ill patients who are at high risk for this complication.” They acknowledge a lack of a uniform definition of high risk and the “admittedly small (1.7%) difference in bleeding rates.”


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