Background Nitric oxide (NO) is present in the gas phase of the normal human stomach at a high concentration (1-10 ppm). The majority of this NO is produced from the reduction of dietary nitrate to nitrite and finally NO. Generation of this nonenzymatically produced gastric NO occurs only in an acidic environment. We examined NO concentrations in critically ill subjects and the mechanism for the observed perturbations.
Methods Seven critically ill, intubated intensive care unit (ICU) patients (mean APACHE II score 16) and seven control patients were studied. Gastric NO concentrations were measured with a Sievers NO analyzer (GE, Boulder, CO). Nitrate and nitrite concentrations were determined by a modified Griess assay. Bacterial counts were determined by optical density at 600 nm.
Results Gastric NO concentration was significantly lower in the critically ill group (102.7 ppb) compared with the control group (953.2 ppb), although this difference was abolished by treating the control group with omeprazole (54 ppb). Gastric nitrate and nitrite concentrations were similar in the control and ICU groups, suggesting that substrate deficiency was not a cause of the low intragastric NO. Gastric pH was significantly lower in the control subjects (3.0) compared with the ICU patients (6.3) and the control subjects after receiving omeprazole (6.5). ICU patients had a trend toward higher gastric bacterial load.
Conclusion In critically ill patients, markedly decreased NO concentrations are found in the gas of the stomach owing to a failure of gastric acidification.