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Changing patterns in medical practice may contribute to temporal changes in the incidence of upper and lower gastrointestinal (GI) complications. There are limited data on the incidence of lower GI complications in clinical practice and most studies that have been done have serious methodological limitations to inferring the actual burden of this problem. The aims of this study were to analyze time trends of hospitalizations resulting from GI complications originating both from the upper and lower GI tract in the general population, and to determine the risk factors, severity, and clinical impact of these GI events.This was a population-based study of patients hospitalized because of GI complications in 10 general hospitals between 1996 and 2005 in Spain. We report the age- and gender-specific rates, estimate the regression coefficients of the upper and lower GI event trends, and evaluate the severity and associated risk factors. GI hospitalization charts were validated by an independent review of large random samples of unspecific and specific codes distributed among all hospitals and study years.Upper GI complications fell from 87/100,000 persons in 1996 to 47/100,000 persons in 2005, whereas lower GI complications increased from 20/100,000 to 33/100,000. Overall, mortality rates decreased, but the case fatality remained constant over time. Lower GI events had a higher mortality rate (8.8 vs. 5.5%), a longer hospitalization (11.6 ± 13.9 vs. 7.9±8.8 days), and higher resource utilization than did upper GI events. The use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) without concomitant proton pump inhibitor was more frequently recorded among upper GI complications than among lower GI complications. When comparing upper GI events with lower GI events, we found that male gender (adjusted odds ratio (OR): 1.94; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.70-2.21), and recorded NSAID use (OR: 1.92; 95% CI: 1.60-2.30) were associated to a greater extent with upper GI events, whereas older age (OR: 0.83; 95% CI: 0.77-0.89), number of comorbidities (OR: 0.91; 95% CI: 0.86-0.96), and having a diagnosis in recent years (OR: 0.92; 95% CI: 0.90-0.94) were all associated to a greater extent with lower GI events than with upper GI events after adjusting for age, sex, hospitalization, and discharge year.Over the past decade, there has been a progressive change in the overall picture of GI events leading to hospitalization, with a clear decreasing trend in upper GI events and a significant increase in lower GI events, causing the rates of these two GI complications to converge. Overall, mortality has also decreased, but the in-hospital case fatality of upper or lower GI complication events has remained constant. It will be a challenge to improve future care in this area unless we develop new strategies to reduce the number of events originating in the lower GI tract, as well as reducing their associated mortality.