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Zollinger Ellison Syndrome

Zollinger Ellison Syndrome is a rare condition wherein one or more tumors form in your pancreas or the upper part of your small intestine. These tumors secrete large amounts of the hormone gastrin that causes your stomach to create more acid. The extra acid then leads to peptic ulcers and diarrhea as well as other symptoms. This condition may occur at any time in life. But people usually find out they are affected between ages 20 and 60. 

Signs and symptoms of Zollinger Ellison Syndrome may include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Bleeding in your digestive tract
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 
  • Burping
  • Acid reflux and heartburn
  • Burning, gnawing, aching, or discomfort in your upper abdomen
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain


The syndrome starts when one or more tumors form in your pancreas or duodenum or at other sites such as the lymph nodes adjacent to your pancreas. Your pancreas creates enzymes that are needed to digest food. The pancreas also produces several hormones including insulin.

The tumors that occur with Zollinger-Ellison syndrome are made up of cells that secrete large amounts of the hormone gastrin. Increased gastrin makes the stomach produce far too much acid. The excess acid then leads to peptic ulcers and sometimes to diarrhea. Besides causing excess acid production, the tumors are often cancerous. Even though the tumors tend to grow slowly, cancer can spread elsewhere most commonly to nearby lymph nodes or your liver.


In some cases, doctors recommend other treatments to control tumor growth, including:

  • Using chemotherapy to try to slow tumor growth
  • Having a liver transplant
  • Attempting to destroy the tumor by cutting off the blood supply or by using heat to destroy cancer cells
  • Removing as much of a liver tumor as possible 
  • Injecting drugs into the tumor to relieve cancer symptoms

Too much acid production can almost always be controlled. Medications known as proton pump inhibitors are the first line of treatment. These are effective medications for decreasing acid production in Zollinger-Ellison syndrome.


Several cases of Zollinger-Ellison syndrome are sporadic. This means that it does not stem from another condition, and it is not possible either to predict who will have it or ways to prevent it. Conversely, if there is a family history of MEN1 gene mutation, a physician may suggest that a person undergoes predictive testing even if they do not have any symptoms.

For this reason, if you have any symptoms of the condition seek medical assistance right away.