Patients receiving non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are at an increased risk of gastroduodenal erosions, ulcers, and the associated complications of haemorrhage, perforation, and death. Many NSAID associated ulcers that bleed or perforate have been asymptomatic until the time of presentation and conversely many patients with dyspepsia do not have ulcers. Symptoms are a poor guide to the presence of an ulcer. During continued treatment with NSAIDs misoprostol is the best choice for NSAID induced gastroduodenal damage; it achieves higher rates of healing than other drugs in these circumstances. Misoprostol is superior to other drugs in the prevention of gastric damage but misoprostol and H2 antagonists are of similar benefit in the duodenum. Prophylactic studies have all used endoscopic damage as an endpoint, and much larger studies will be needed to show an effect of misoprostol on the incidence of ulcer complications. There are no clear guidelines as to which patients should receive prophylactic treatment with misoprostol but those particularly at risk of ulcer complications--that is, those with previous peptic ulceration, the elderly, medically unfit, patients receiving large doses of NSAIDs, and those patients receiving steroids in addition to NSAIDs--should be considered.
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