What is the pathophysiology of caustic acid ingestions?

Updated: Dec 09, 2020
  • Author: Derrick Lung, MD, MPH, FACEP, FACMT; Chief Editor: David Vearrier, MD, MPH  more...
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Answer

Acid ingestions cause tissue injury by coagulation necrosis, which causes desiccation or denaturation of superficial tissue proteins, often resulting in the formation of an eschar or coagulum. This eschar may protect the underlying tissue from further damage. Unlike alkali ingestions, the stomach is the most commonly involved organ following an acid ingestion. This may due to some natural protection of the esophageal squamous epithelium. Small bowel exposure also occurs in about 20% of cases. Emesis may be induced by pyloric and antral spasm.

The eschar sloughs in 3-4 days and granulation tissue fills the defect. Perforation may occur at this time. A gastric outlet obstruction may develop as the scar tissue contracts over a 2- to 4-week period. Acute complications include gastric and intestinal perforation and upper gastrointestinal hemorrhage.

Endoscopic view of the esophagus after ingestion of an acid is shown in the images below.

Caustic ingestions. Endoscopic view of the esophag Caustic ingestions. Endoscopic view of the esophagus in a patient who ingested hydrochloric acid (Lime-a-way). Note the extensive thrombosis of the esophageal submucosal vessels giving the appearance similar to chicken wire. Courtesy of Ferdinando L. Mirarchi, DO, Fred P. Harchelroad Jr, MD, Sangeeta Gulati, MD, and George J. Brodmerkel Jr, MD.
Caustic ingestions. Endoscopic view of the esophag Caustic ingestions. Endoscopic view of the esophagus in a patient who ingested hydrochloric acid (Lime-a-way). Note the appearance of the thrombosed esophageal submucosal vessels giving the appearance of chicken wire. Courtesy of Ferdinando L. Mirarchi, DO, Fred P. Harchelroad Jr, MD, Sangeeta Gulati, MD, and George J. Brodmerkel Jr, MD.
Caustic ingestions. Endoscopic view of the esophag Caustic ingestions. Endoscopic view of the esophagus in a patient who ingested hydrochloric acid (Lime-a-way). Note the extensive burn and thrombosis of the submucosal esophageal vessels, which gives the appearance of chicken wire. Courtesy of Ferdinando L. Mirarchi, DO, Fred P. Harchelroad Jr, MD, Sangeeta Gulati, MD, and George J. Brodmerkel Jr, MD.

Significant exposures may also result in gastrointestinal absorption of the acidic substances leading to significant metabolic acidosis, hemolysis, acute kidney injury, and death.


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