Zollinger-Ellison syndrome: Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Definition

Zollinger-Ellison syndrome is a condition that occurs with abnormal production of the hormone gastrin. A small tumor (gastrinoma) in the pancreas or small intestine produces the high levels of gastrin in the blood.

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Zollinger-Ellison syndrome is caused by tumors, usually found in the head of the pancreas and the upper small bowel. These tumors produce the hormone gastrin and are called gastrinomas. High levels of gastrin cause too much production of stomach acid.

Gastrinomas occur as single tumors or as small, multiple tumors. About one-half to two-thirds of single gastrinomas are cancerous (malignant) tumors that commonly spread to the liver and nearby lymph nodes.

A number of patients with gastrinomas have many tumors as part of a condition called multiple endocrine neoplasia type I (MEN I). MEN I patients often have tumors of the pituitary gland (brain) and parathyroid gland (neck), as well as tumors of the pancreas.

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Endocrine glands

Endocrine glands release hormones (chemical messengers) into the bloodstream to be transported to various organs and tissues throughout the body. For instance, the pancreas secretes insulin, which allows the body to regulate levels of sugar in the blood. The thyroid gets instructions from the pituitary to secrete hormones which determine the pace of chemical activity in the body (the more hormone in the bloodstream, the faster the chemical activity; the less hormone, the slower the activity).


Review Date : 2/20/2008
Reviewed By : Christian Stone, MD, Division of Gastroenterology, Washington University in St. Louis, School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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