Despite a decreased incidence of ulcer disease and improvements in the management of acute upper gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding, mortality remains at about 6–7%. Although endoscopic haemostatic therapy has been demonstrated to be the mainstay of management, the search continues for less invasive medical modalities that might also improve patient outcome.

In vitro data have indicated the important role of acid in impairing haemostasis and causing clot digestion. Therefore, theoretically, maintenance of a high intragastric pH (above 6.0) during management of upper GI bleeding is warranted. Until recently, available agents did not permit such a sustained elevation in gastric pH. Early studies with H2-receptor antagonists have not demonstrated significant improvements in important patient outcomes, such as rebleeding, surgery or mortality.

With the availability of intravenous formulations of proton pump inhibitors, it is now possible to aim at maintaining gastric pH above 6.0 for 24 h per day. Recent clinical trial data would appear to support the use of proton pump inhibitors to decrease the rate of rebleeding and the need for surgery. This paper provides a review of non-variceal acute GI bleeding, with special reference to the role of proton pump inhibitors in this clinical setting.