BACKGROUND: Gastrointestinal (GI) complications of cardiovascular surgery, particularly bleeding, occur frequently.OBJECTIVE: To determine factors that predict upper GI bleeding (UGIB) after cardiac surgery to improve prognostication and, thus, outcomes.METHODS: The present case-control study reviewed institutional records spanning 2002 to 2005 for consecutive patients who developed in-hospital UGIB following cardiovascular surgery. Each case was matched to two to three controls for age, sex and date of hospital admission. Demographics, pharmacotherapy (including use of in-hospital acid suppression), endoscopic findings and outcomes were recorded. After adjustment for possible confounders, including Parsonnet score and demographic parameters, conditional logistic regression analysis identified independent significant predictors of the subsequent development of UGIB.RESULTS: The study population consisted of 131 cases (mean [± SD] age 68.8±10.2 years, 69.5% male, mean Parsonnet score 24.6±14.2) and 387 matched controls (mean age 68.8±10.8 years, 70.0% male, mean Parsonnet score 20.9±14.2). UGIB events occurred a mean of 10.3±7.7 days after cardiac surgery. Duration of mechanical ventilation (OR 3.01 [95% CI 1.44 to 6.28]), elevation of international normalized ratio (OR 1.91 [95% CI 1.31 to 2.78]) and occurrence of Clostridium difficile colitis before bleeding (OR 3.15 [95% CI 1.19 to 8.36]) were independent risk factors. Use of histamine type 2 receptor antagonists (H2RAs) (OR 0.65 [95% CI 0.38 to 1.12]) or proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) (OR 0.60 [95% CI 0.27 to 1.32]) demonstrated trends toward protecting against UGIB after cardiac surgery.CONCLUSIONS: GI bleeding events occurred approximately 10 days after cardiac surgery in patients with a complicated postoperative course. Significant predictors of subsequent bleeding included increased duration of mechanical ventilation and elevation of international normalized ratio; routine acid suppression with PPIs should be considered in such patients. C difficile colitis also significantly predicted UGIB, and H2RAs should be considered for acid suppression. Neither H2RAs nor PPIs were effective in preventing UGIB, although the small number of patients limits definitive conclusions regarding the role of acid suppression.