The lifetime prevalence of duodenal ulcer in the United States is 8 to 10%, whereas another 1% of the population is affected by gastric ulcer. Both central and peripheral dopamine pathways may influence ulcer pathogenesis. Dopamine agonists prevent whereas antagonists augment stress- and chemically induced gastrointestinal ulcers in preclinical models. The dopaminergic neurotoxin 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,36-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) depletes central dopamine and induces lesions in the substantia nigra, and, if given in high doses, MPTP induces a Parkinson disease-like syndrome and gastric ulcers. Because schizophrenia is attributed, in part, to an overactive dopaminergic system, persons with schizophrenia may display a reduced susceptibility toward gastrointestinal ulcers.
A case-control study was conducted in patients represented in the 2002 National Inpatient Sample, the largest all-payer inpatient care database in the United States, consisting of 5 to 8 million inpatient hospital stays per year, which approximates a 20% sample of community hospitals.
A significant association was observed between schizophrenia and diminished risk for duodenal (odds ratio [OR] 0.55; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.45-0.67) and gastric (OR 0.54; 95% CI 0.46-0.63) (p < .01) ulcers but not for gastrojejunal ulcers (OR 0.44; 95% CI 0.16-1.20) (p = .11). Potential confounders such as age, gender, race, tobacco or alcohol dependence, and Helicobacter pylori infection were controlled in multivariate analyses.
This observational study in a large sample of patients in community hospitals suggests that schizophrenia and attendant neurobiologic mechanisms (eg, variability in dopamine pathways) may act in concert to modify the composite risk for gastrointestinal ulcers. Dopamine pathways warrant further prospective research as new potential drug targets in ulcer disease.