Recent U.S. estimates from the National Inpatient Sample report that acute pancreatitis is the most common inpatient principal gastrointestinal diagnosis. The incidence of acute pancreatitis also varies in different countries and depends on cause (e.g., alcohol, gallstones, metabolic factors, drugs [Table 371-1]). The annual incidence ranges from 13–45/100,000 persons. Acute pancreatitis results in >250,000 hospitalizations per year. The median length of hospital stay is 4 days, with a median hospital cost of $6,096 and a mortality of 1%. The estimated cost annually approaches $2.6 billion. Hospitalization rates increase with age, are 88% higher among blacks, and are higher among males than females. The age-adjusted rate of hospital discharges with an acute pancreatitis diagnosis increased 62% between 1988 and 2004. From 2000 to 2009, the rate increased 30%. Thus, acute pancreatitis is increasing and is a significant burden on health care costs and resource utilization.
TABLE 371-1Causes of Acute Pancreatitis |Favorite Table|Download (.pdf) TABLE 371-1 Causes of Acute Pancreatitis
|Common Causes |
|Gallstones (including microlithiasis) |
|Alcohol (acute and chronic alcoholism) |
|Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), especially after biliary manometry |
|Drugs (azathioprine, 6-mercaptopurine, sulfonamides, estrogens, tetracycline, valproic acid, anti-HIV medications, 5-aminosalicylic acid [5-ASA]) |
|Trauma (especially blunt abdominal trauma) |
|Postoperative (abdominal and nonabdominal operations) |
|Uncommon Causes |
|Vascular causes and vasculitis (ischemic-hypoperfusion states after cardiac surgery) |
|Connective tissue disorders and thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP) |
|Cancer of the pancreas |
|Periampullary diverticulum |
|Pancreas divisum |
|Hereditary pancreatitis |
|Cystic fibrosis |
|Renal failure |
|Infections (mumps, coxsackievirus, cytomegalovirus, echovirus, parasites) |
|Autoimmune (e.g., type 1 and type 2) |
|Causes to Consider in Patients with Recurrent Bouts of Acute Pancreatitis Without an Obvious Etiology |
|Occult disease of the biliary tree or pancreatic ducts, especially microlithiasis, biliary sludge |
|Alcohol abuse |
|Metabolic: Hypertriglyceridemia, hypercalcemia |
|Anatomic: Pancreas divisum |
|Pancreatic cancer |
|Intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasm (IPMN) |
|Hereditary pancreatitis |
|Cystic fibrosis |
ETIOLOGY AND PATHOGENESIS
There are many causes of acute pancreatitis (Table 371-1), but the mechanisms by which these conditions trigger pancreatic inflammation have not been fully elucidated. Gallstones continue to be the leading cause of acute pancreatitis in most series (30–60%). The risk of acute pancreatitis in patients with at least one gallstone <5 mm in diameter is fourfold greater than that in patients with larger stones. Alcohol is the second most common cause, responsible for 15–30% of cases in the United States. The incidence of pancreatitis in alcoholics is surprisingly low (5/100,000), indicating that in addition to the amount of alcohol ingested, other factors affect a person’s susceptibility to pancreatic injury such as cigarette smoking. Acute pancreatitis occurs in 5–10% of patients following endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). Use of a prophylactic pancreatic duct stent and rectal nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) has been shown to reduce pancreatitis after ERCP. Risk factors for post-ERCP pancreatitis include minor papilla sphincterotomy, sphincter of Oddi dysfunction, prior history of post-ERCP pancreatitis, age <60 years, >2 contrast injections into the pancreatic duct, and endoscopic trainee involvement.
Hypertriglyceridemia is the cause of acute pancreatitis in 1.3–3.8% of cases; serum triglyceride levels are usually >11.3 mmol/L (>1000 mg/dL). Most patients with hypertriglyceridemia, when subsequently examined, show evidence of an underlying derangement in lipid metabolism, probably unrelated to pancreatitis. Such patients are prone to recurrent episodes of pancreatitis. Any factor (e.g., drugs or alcohol) that causes an abrupt increase in serum triglycerides can precipitate a bout of acute pancreatitis. Patients with a deficiency of apolipoprotein CII have an increased incidence of pancreatitis; apolipoprotein CII activates lipoprotein lipase, which is important in clearing chylomicrons from the bloodstream. Patients with diabetes mellitus who have developed ketoacidosis and patients who are on certain medications such as oral contraceptives may also develop high triglyceride levels. Approximately 0.1–2% of cases of acute pancreatitis are drug related. Drugs cause pancreatitis either by a hypersensitivity reaction or by the generation of a toxic metabolite, although in some cases, it is not clear which of these mechanisms is operative (Table 371-1).
Pathologically, acute pancreatitis varies from interstitial pancreatitis (pancreas blood supply maintained), which is generally self-limited to necrotizing pancreatitis (pancreas blood supply interrupted), in which the extent of necrosis may correlate with the severity of the attack and its systemic complications. Autodigestion is a currently accepted pathogenic theory; according to this theory, pancreatitis results when proteolytic enzymes (e.g., trypsinogen, chymotrypsinogen, proelastase, and lipolytic enzymes such as phospholipase A2) are activated in the pancreas acinar cell rather than in the intestinal lumen. A number of factors (e.g., endotoxins, exotoxins, viral infections, ischemia, oxidative stress, lysosomal calcium, and direct trauma) are believed to facilitate premature activation of trypsin. Activated proteolytic enzymes, especially trypsin, not only digest pancreatic and peripancreatic tissues but also can activate other enzymes, such as elastase and phospholipase A2. Spontaneous activation of trypsin also can occur.
ACTIVATION OF PANCREATIC ENZYMES IN THE PATHOGENESIS OF ACUTE PANCREATITIS
Several recent studies have suggested that pancreatitis is a disease that evolves in three phases. The initial phase is characterized by intrapancreatic digestive enzyme activation and acinar cell injury. Trypsin activation appears to be mediated by lysosomal hydrolases such as cathepsin B that become colocalized with digestive enzymes in intracellular organelles; it is currently believed that acinar cell injury is the consequence of trypsin activation. The second phase of pancreatitis involves the activation, chemoattraction, and sequestration of leukocytes and macrophages in the pancreas, resulting in an enhanced intrapancreatic inflammatory reaction. Neutrophil depletion induced by prior administration of an antineutrophil serum has been shown to reduce the severity of experimentally induced pancreatitis. There is also evidence to support the concept that neutrophils can activate trypsinogen. Thus, intrapancreatic acinar cell activation of trypsinogen could be a two-step process (i.e., an early neutrophil-independent and a later neutrophil-dependent phase). The third phase of pancreatitis is due to the effects of activated proteolytic enzymes and cytokines, released by the inflamed pancreas, on distant organs. Activated proteolytic enzymes, especially trypsin, not only digest pancreatic and peripancreatic tissues but also activate other enzymes such as elastase and phospholipase A2. The active enzymes and cytokines then digest cellular membranes and cause proteolysis, edema, interstitial hemorrhage, vascular damage, coagulation necrosis, fat necrosis, and parenchymal cell necrosis. Cellular injury and death result in the liberation of bradykinin peptides, vasoactive substances, and histamine that can produce vasodilation, increased vascular permeability, and edema with profound effects on many organs. The systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), as well as multiorgan failure, may occur as a result of this cascade of local and distant effects.
A number of genetic factors can increase the susceptibility and/or modify the severity of pancreatic injury in acute pancreatitis, recurrent pancreatitis, and chronic pancreatitis. All of the major genetic susceptibility factors center on the control of trypsin activity within the pancreatic acinar cell, in part because they were identified as candidate genes linked to intrapancreatic trypsin control. Five genetic variants have been identified as being associated with susceptibility to pancreatitis. The genes that have been identified include (1) cationic trypsinogen gene (PRSS1), (2) pancreatic secretory trypsin inhibitor (SPINK1), (3) the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator gene (CFTR), (4) the chymotrypsin C gene (CTRC), and (5) the calcium-sensing receptor (CASR). Investigations of other genetic variants are currently under way, and new genes will be added to this list in the future. Multiple medical, ethical, and psychological issues arise when these genes are discovered, and referral to genetic counselors is recommended.
APPROACH TO THE PATIENT: Abdominal Pain
Abdominal pain is the major symptom of acute pancreatitis. Pain may vary from a mild discomfort to severe, constant, and incapacitating distress. Characteristically, the pain, which is steady and boring in character, is located in the epigastrium and periumbilical region, and may radiate to the back, chest, flanks, and lower abdomen. Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal distention due to gastric and intestinal hypomotility and chemical peritonitis are also frequent complaints.
Physical examination frequently reveals a distressed and anxious patient. Low-grade fever, tachycardia, and hypotension are fairly common. Shock is not unusual and may result from (1) hypovolemia secondary to exudation of blood and plasma proteins into the retroperitoneal space; (2) increased formation and release of kinin peptides, which cause vasodilation and increased vascular permeability; and (3) systemic effects of proteolytic and lipolytic enzymes released into the circulation. Jaundice occurs infrequently; when present, it usually is due to edema of the head of the pancreas with compression of the intrapancreatic portion of the common bile duct or passage of a biliary stone or sludge. Erythematous skin nodules due to subcutaneous fat necrosis may rarely occur. In 10–20% of patients, there are pulmonary findings, including basilar rales, atelectasis, and pleural effusion, the latter most frequently left sided. Abdominal tenderness and muscle rigidity are present to a variable degree, but compared with the intense pain, these signs may be less impressive. Bowel sounds are usually diminished or absent. An enlarged pancreas from acute fluid collection, walled off necrosis, or a pseudocyst may be palpable in the upper abdomen later in the course of the disease (i.e., 4–6 weeks). A faint blue discoloration around the umbilicus (Cullen’s sign) may occur as the result of hemoperitoneum, and a blue-red-purple or green-brown discoloration of the flanks (Turner’s sign) reflects tissue catabolism of hemoglobin from severe necrotizing pancreatitis with hemorrhage.
Serum amylase and lipase values threefold or more above normal virtually clinch the diagnosis if gut perforation, ischemia, and infarction are excluded. Serum lipase is the preferred test. However, it should be noted that there is no correlation between the severity of pancreatitis and the degree of serum lipase and amylase elevations. After 3–7 days, even with continuing evidence of pancreatitis, total serum amylase values tend to return toward normal. However, pancreatic isoamylase and lipase levels may remain elevated for 7–14 days. It should be recognized that amylase elevations in serum and urine occur in many conditions other than pancreatitis (see Chap. 370, Table 370-2). Importantly, patients with acidemia (arterial pH ≤7.32) may have spurious elevations in serum amylase. This finding explains why patients with diabetic ketoacidosis may have marked elevations in serum amylase without any other evidence of acute pancreatitis. Serum lipase activity increases in parallel with amylase activity and is more specific than amylase. A serum lipase measurement can be instrumental in differentiating a pancreatic or nonpancreatic cause for hyperamylasemia. Leukocytosis (15,000–20,000 leukocytes/μL) occurs frequently. Patients with more severe disease may show hemoconcentration with hematocrit values >44% and/or prerenal azotemia with a blood urea nitrogen (BUN) level >22 mg/dL resulting from loss of plasma into the retroperitoneal space and peritoneal cavity.
TABLE 371-2Revised Atlanta Definitions of Morphologic Features of Acute Pancreatitis |Favorite Table|Download (.pdf) TABLE 371-2 Revised Atlanta Definitions of Morphologic Features of Acute Pancreatitis
|Morphologic Feature ||Definition ||Computed Tomography Criteria |
|Interstitial pancreatitis ||Acute inflammation of the pancreatic parenchyma and peripancreatic tissues, but without recognizable tissue necrosis || |
Pancreatic parenchyma enhancement by IV contrast agent
No findings of peripancreatic necrosis
|Necrotizing pancreatitis ||Inflammation associated with pancreatic parenchymal necrosis and/or peripancreatic necrosis ||Lack of pancreatic parenchymal enhancement by IV contrast agent and/or presence of findings of peripancreatic necrosis (see below—ANC and WON) |
|Acute pancreatic fluid collection ||Peripancreatic fluid associated with interstitial edematous pancreatitis with no associated peripancreatic necrosis. This term applies only to areas of peripancreatic fluid seen within the first 4 weeks after onset of interstitial edematous pancreatitis and without the features of a pseudocyst. || |
Occurs in the setting of interstitial edematous pancreatitis
Homogeneous collection with fluid density
Confined by normal peripancreatic fascial planes
No definable wall encapsulating the collection
Adjacent to pancreas (no intrapancreatic extension)
|Pancreatic pseudocyst ||An encapsulated collection of fluid with a well-defined inflammatory wall usually outside the pancreas with minimal or no necrosis. This entity usually occurs >4 weeks after onset of interstitial edematous pancreatitis. || |
Well circumscribed, usually round or oval
Homogeneous fluid density
No nonliquid component
Well-defined wall; that is, completely encapsulated
Maturation usually requires >4 weeks after onset of acute pancreatitis; occurs after interstitial edematous pancreatitis
|Acute necrotic collection (ANC) ||A collection containing variable amounts of both fluid and necrosis associated with necrotizing pancreatitis; the necrosis can involve the pancreatic parenchyma and/or the peripancreatic tissues. || |
Occurs only in the setting of acute necrotizing pancreatitis
Heterogeneous and nonliquid density of varying degrees in different locations (some appear homogeneous early in their course)
No definable wall encapsulating the collection
Location—intrapancreatic and/or extrapancreatic
|Walled-off necrosis (WON) ||A mature, encapsulated collection of pancreatic and/or peripancreatic necrosis that has developed a well-defined inflammatory wall. WON usually occurs >4 weeks after onset of necrotizing pancreatitis. || |
Heterogeneous with liquid and nonliquid density with varying degrees of loculations (some may appear homogeneous)
Well-defined wall; that is, completely encapsulated
Location—intrapancreatic and/or extrapancreatic
Maturation usually requires 4 weeks after onset of acute necrotizing pancreatitis
Hemoconcentration may be the harbinger of more severe disease (i.e., pancreatic necrosis), whereas azotemia is a significant risk factor for mortality. Hyperglycemia is common and is due to multiple factors, including decreased insulin release, increased glucagon release, and an increased output of adrenal glucocorticoids and catecholamines. Hypocalcemia occurs in ~25% of patients, and its pathogenesis is incompletely understood. Although earlier studies suggested that the response of the parathyroid gland to a decrease in serum calcium is impaired, subsequent observations have failed to confirm this phenomenon. Intraperitoneal saponification of calcium by fatty acids in areas of fat necrosis occurs occasionally, with large amounts (up to 6.0 g) dissolved or suspended in ascitic fluid. Such “soap formation” may also be significant in patients with pancreatitis, mild hypocalcemia, and little or no obvious ascites. Hyperbilirubinemia (serum bilirubin >68 mmoL or >4.0 mg/dL) occurs in ~10% of patients. However, jaundice is transient, and serum bilirubin levels return to normal in 4–7 days. Serum alkaline phosphatase and aspartate aminotransferase levels are also transiently elevated, and they parallel serum bilirubin values and may point to gallbladder-related disease or inflammation in the pancreatic head. Hypertriglyceridemia occurs in 5–10% of patients, and serum amylase levels in these individuals are often spuriously normal (Chap. 370). Approximately 5–10% of patients have hypoxemia (arterial PO2 ≤60 mmHg), which may herald the onset of ARDS. Finally, the electrocardiogram is occasionally abnormal in acute pancreatitis with ST-segment and T-wave abnormalities simulating myocardial ischemia.
An abdominal ultrasound is recommended in the emergency ward as the initial diagnostic imaging modality and is most useful to evaluate for gallstone disease and the pancreatic head.
The revised Atlanta criteria have clearly outlined the morphologic features of acute pancreatitis on computed tomography (CT) scan as follows: (1) interstitial pancreatitis, (2) necrotizing pancreatitis, (3) acute pancreatic fluid collection, (4) pancreatic pseudocyst, (5) acute necrotic collection (ANC), and (6) walled-off pancreatic necrosis (WON) (Table 371-2 and Fig. 371-1). Radiologic studies useful in the diagnosis of acute pancreatitis are discussed in Chap. 370 and listed in Table 370-1.
Acute pancreatitis: computed tomography (CT) evolution. A. Contrast-enhanced CT scan of the abdomen performed on admission for a patient with clinical and biochemical parameters suggestive of acute pancreatitis. Note the abnormal enhancement of the pancreatic parenchyma (arrow) suggestive of interstitial pancreatitis. B. Contrast-enhanced CT scan of the abdomen performed on the same patient 6 days later for persistent fever and systemic inflammatory response syndrome. The pancreas now demonstrates significant areas of nonenhancement consistent with development of necrosis, particularly in the body and neck region (arrow). Note that an early CT scan obtained within the first 48 h of hospitalization may underestimate or miss necrosis. C. Contrast-enhanced CT scan of the abdomen performed on the same patient 2 months after the initial episode of acute pancreatitis. CT now demonstrates evidence of a fluid collection consistent with walled-off pancreatic necrosis (arrow). (Courtesy of Dr. KJ Mortele, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; with permission.)
Any severe acute pain in the abdomen or back should suggest the possibility of acute pancreatitis. The diagnosis is established by two of the following three criteria: (1) typical abdominal pain in the epigastrium that may radiate to the back, (2) threefold or greater elevation in serum lipase and/or amylase, and (3) confirmatory findings of acute pancreatitis on cross-sectional abdominal imaging. Patients also have associated nausea, emesis, fever, tachycardia, and abnormal findings on abdominal examination. Laboratory studies may reveal leukocytosis, hypocalcemia, and hyperglycemia. Although not required for diagnosis, markers of severity may include hemoconcentration (hematocrit >44%), admission azotemia (BUN >22 mg/dL), SIRS, and signs of organ failure (Table 371-3).
TABLE 371-3Severe Acute Pancreatitis |Favorite Table|Download (.pdf) TABLE 371-3 Severe Acute Pancreatitis
|Risk Factors for Severity |
|Markers of Severity at Admission or Within 24 h |
SIRS—defined by presence of 2 or more criteria:
Core temperature <36° or >38°C
Heart rate >90 beats/min
Respirations >20/min or Pco2 <32 mmHg
White blood cell count >12,000/μL, <4000/μL, or 10% bands
Hemoconcentration (hematocrit >44%)
Admission BUN (>22 mg/dL)
Organ failure (Modified Marshall Score)
Cardiovascular: systolic BP <90 mmHg, heart rate >130 beats/min
Pulmonary: Pao2 <60 mmHg
Renal: serum creatinine >2.0 mg%
|Markers of Severity During Hospitalization |
Persistent organ failure
The differential diagnosis should include the following disorders: (1) perforated viscus, especially peptic ulcer; (2) acute cholecystitis and biliary colic; (3) acute intestinal obstruction; (4) mesenteric vascular occlusion; (5) renal colic; (6) inferior myocardial infarction; (7) dissecting aortic aneurysm; (8) connective tissue disorders with vasculitis; (9) pneumonia; and (10) diabetic ketoacidosis. It may be difficult to differentiate acute cholecystitis from acute pancreatitis, because an elevated serum amylase may be found in both disorders. Pain of biliary tract origin is more right sided or epigastric than periumbilical or left upper quadrant and can be more severe; ileus is usually absent. Ultrasound is helpful in establishing the diagnosis of cholelithiasis and cholecystitis. Intestinal obstruction due to mechanical factors can be differentiated from pancreatitis by the history of crescendo-decrescendo pain, findings on abdominal examination, and CT of the abdomen showing changes characteristic of mechanical obstruction. Acute mesenteric vascular occlusion is usually suspected in elderly debilitated patients with brisk leukocytosis, abdominal distention, and bloody diarrhea, confirmed by CT or magnetic resonance angiography. Vasculitides secondary to systemic lupus erythematosus and polyarteritis nodosa may be confused with pancreatitis, especially because pancreatitis may develop as a complication of these diseases. Diabetic ketoacidosis is often accompanied by abdominal pain and elevated total serum amylase levels, thus closely mimicking acute pancreatitis. However, the serum lipase level is not elevated in diabetic ketoacidosis.
CLINICAL COURSE, DEFINITIONS, AND CLASSIFICATIONS
The Revised Atlanta Classification (1) defines phases of acute pancreatitis, (2) defines severity of acute pancreatitis, and (3) clarifies imaging definitions as outlined below.
Phases of Acute Pancreatitis
Two phases of acute pancreatitis have been defined, early (<2 weeks) and late (>2 weeks), which primarily describes the hospital course of the disease. In the early phase of acute pancreatitis, which lasts 1–2 weeks, severity is defined by clinical parameters rather than morphologic findings. Most patients exhibit SIRS, and if this persists, patients are predisposed to organ failure. Three organ systems should be assessed to define organ failure: respiratory, cardiovascular, and renal. Organ failure is defined as a score of 2 or more for one of these three organ systems using the modified Marshall scoring system. Persistent organ failure (>48 h) is the most important clinical finding in regard to severity of the acute pancreatitis episode. Organ failure that affects more than one organ is considered multisystem organ failure. CT imaging is usually not needed or recommended during the first 48 h of admission in acute pancreatitis.
The late phase is characterized by a protracted course of illness and may require imaging to evaluate for local complications. The important clinical parameter of severity, as in the early phase, is persistent organ failure. These patients may require supportive measures such as renal dialysis, ventilator support, or need for supplemental nutrition via the nasojejunal or parenteral route. The radiographic feature of greatest importance to recognize in this phase is the development of necrotizing pancreatitis on CT imaging. Necrosis generally prolongs hospitalization and, if infected, may require operative, endoscopic, or percutaneous intervention.
Severity of Acute Pancreatitis
Three severity classifications have also been defined: mild, moderately severe, and severe. Mild acute pancreatitis is without local complications or organ failure. Most patients with interstitial acute pancreatitis have mild pancreatitis. In mild acute pancreatitis, the disease is self-limited and subsides spontaneously, usually within 3–7 days after treatment is instituted. Oral intake can be resumed if the patient is hungry, has normal bowel function, and is without nausea and vomiting. Typically, a clear or full liquid diet has been recommended for the initial meal; however, a low-fat solid diet is a reasonable choice following recovery from mild acute pancreatitis.
Moderately severe acute pancreatitis is characterized by transient organ failure (resolves in <48 h) or local or systemic complications in the absence of persistent organ failure. These patients may or may not have necrosis, but may develop a local complication such as a fluid collection that requires a prolonged hospitalization greater than 1 week.
Severe acute pancreatitis is characterized by persistent organ failure (>48 h). Organ failure can be single or multiple. A CT scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) should be obtained to assess for necrosis and/or complications. If a local complication is encountered, management is dictated by clinical symptoms, evidence of infection, maturity of fluid collection, and clinical stability of the patient. Prophylactic antibiotics are not recommended.
Imaging in Acute Pancreatitis
Two types of pancreatitis are recognized on imaging as interstitial or necrotizing based on pancreatic perfusion. CT imaging is best evaluated 3–5 days into hospitalization when patients are not responding to supportive care to look for local complications such as necrosis. Recent studies report the overutilization of CT imaging in acute pancreatitis and its inability to be better than clinical judgment in the early days of acute pancreatitis management. The revised criteria also outline the terminology for local complications and fluid collections along with a CT imaging template to guide reporting of findings. Local morphologic features are summarized in Table 371-1. Interstitial pancreatitis occurs in 90–95% of admissions for acute pancreatitis and is characterized by diffuse gland enlargement, homogenous contrast enhancement, and mild inflammatory changes or peripancreatic stranding. Symptoms generally resolve with a week of hospitalization. Necrotizing pancreatitis occurs in 5–10% of acute pancreatitis admissions and does not evolve until several days of hospitalization. It is characterized by lack of pancreatic parenchymal enhancement by intravenous contrast agent and/or presence of findings of peripancreatic necrosis. According to the revised Atlanta criteria, the natural history of pancreatic and peripancreatic necrosis is variable because it may remain solid or liquefy, remain sterile or become infected, and persist or disappear over time. CT identification of local complications, particularly necrosis, is critical in patients who are not responding to therapy because patients with infected and sterile necrosis are at greatest risk of mortality (Figs. 371-1B, 371-2, and 371-3). The median prevalence of organ failure is 54% in necrotizing pancreatitis. The prevalence of organ failure is perhaps slightly higher in infected versus sterile necrosis. With single-organ system failure, the mortality is 3–10% but increases to 47% with multisystem organ failure.
A. Acute necrotizing pancreatitis: computed tomography (CT) scan. Contrast-enhanced CT scan showing acute pancreatitis with necrosis. Arrow shows partially enhancing body/tail of pancreas surrounded by fluid with decreased enhancement in the neck/body of the pancreas. B. Acute fluid collection: CT scan. Contrast-enhanced CT scan showing fluid collection in the retroperitoneum (arrow) compressing the air-filled stomach arising from the pancreas in a patient with asparaginase-induced acute necrotizing pancreatitis. C. Walled-off pancreatic necrosis: CT scan. CT scan showing marked walled-off necrosis of the pancreas and peripancreatic area (arrow) in a patient with necrotizing pancreatitis. Addendum: In past years, both of these CT findings (Figs. 371-2B and 371-2C) would have been misinterpreted as pseudocysts. D. Spiral CT showing a pseudocyst (small arrow) with a pseudoaneurysm (light area in pseudocyst). Note the demonstration of the main pancreatic duct (big arrow), even though this duct is minimally dilated by endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography. (A, B, C, courtesy of Dr. KJ Mortele, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; D, courtesy of Dr. PR Ros, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; with permission.)
A. Pancreaticopleural fistula: pancreatic duct leak on endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography. Pancreatic duct leak (arrow) demonstrated at the time of retrograde pancreatogram in a patient with acute exacerbation of alcohol-induced acute or chronic pancreatitis. B. Pancreaticopleural fistula: computed tomography (CT) scan. Contrast-enhanced CT scan (coronal view) with arrows showing fistula tract from pancreatic duct disruption in the pancreatic pleural fistula. C. Pancreaticopleural fistula: chest x-ray. Large pleural effusion in the left hemithorax from a disrupted pancreatic duct. Analysis of pleural fluid revealed elevated amylase concentration. (Courtesy of Dr. KJ Mortele, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; with permission.)
ACUTE PANCREATITIS MANAGEMENT
We will briefly describe the management of patients with acute pancreatitis from the time of diagnosis in the emergency ward to ongoing hospital admission and, finally, to time of discharge, highlighting salient features based on severity and complications. It is important to note that 85–90% of cases of acute pancreatitis are self-limited and subside spontaneously, usually within 3–7 days after initiation of treatment, and do not exhibit organ failure or local complications.
The management of acute pancreatitis begins in the emergency ward. After a diagnosis has been confirmed, aggressive fluid resuscitation is initiated, intravenous analgesics are administered, severity is assessed, and a search for etiologies that may impact acute care is begun. Patients who do not respond to aggressive fluid resuscitation in the emergency ward should be considered for admission to a step-down or intensive care unit for aggressive fluid resuscitation, hemodynamic monitoring, and management of necrosis or organ failure.
Fluid Resuscitation and Monitoring Response to Therapy
The most important treatment intervention for acute pancreatitis is safe, aggressive intravenous fluid resuscitation. The patient is made NPO to rest the pancreas and is given intravenous narcotic analgesics to control abdominal pain and supplemental oxygen (2 L) via nasal cannula.
Intravenous fluids of lactated Ringer’s or normal saline are initially bolused at 15–20 cc/kg (1050–1400 mL), followed by 3 mL/kg per hour (200–250 mL/h), to maintain urine output >0.5 cc/kg per hour. Serial bedside evaluations are required every 6–8 h to assess vital signs, oxygen saturation, and change in physical examination. Lactated Ringer’s solution has been shown to decrease systemic inflammation and may be a better crystalloid than normal saline. A targeted resuscitation strategy with measurement of hematocrit and BUN every 8–12 h is recommended to ensure adequacy of fluid resuscitation and monitor response to therapy, noting less aggressive resuscitation strategy may be needed in milder forms of pancreatitis. A rising BUN during hospitalization is not only associated with inadequate hydration but also higher in-hospital mortality.
A decrease in hematocrit and BUN during the first 12–24 h is strong evidence that sufficient fluids are being administered. Serial measurements and bedside assessment for fluid overload are continued, and fluid rates are maintained at the current rate. Adjustments in fluid resuscitation may be required in patients with cardiac, pulmonary, or renal disease. A rise in hematocrit or BUN during serial measurement should be treated with a repeat volume challenge with a 2-L crystalloid bolus followed by increasing the fluid rate by 1.5 mg/kg per hour. If the BUN or hematocrit fails to respond (i.e., remains elevated or does not decrease) to this bolus challenge and increase in fluid rate, consideration of transfer to an intensive care unit is strongly recommended for hemodynamic monitoring.
Assessment of Severity and Hospital Triage
Severity of acute pancreatitis should be determined in the emergency ward to assist in patient triage to a regular hospital ward or step-down unit or direct admission to an intensive care unit. The Bedside Index of Severity in Acute Pancreatitis (BISAP) incorporates five clinical and laboratory parameters obtained within the first 24 h of hospitalization (Table 371-3)—BUN >25 mg/dL, impaired mental status (Glasgow coma score <15), SIRS, age >60 years, and pleural effusion on radiography—that can be useful in assessing severity. Presence of three or more of these factors was associated with substantially increased risk for in-hospital mortality among patients with acute pancreatitis. In addition, an elevated hematocrit >44% and admission BUN >22 mg/dL are also associated with more severe acute pancreatitis. Incorporating these indices with the overall patient response to initial fluid resuscitation in the emergency ward can be useful at triaging patients to the appropriate hospital acute care setting.
In general, patients with lower BISAP scores, hematocrits, and admission BUNs tend to respond to initial management and are triaged to a regular hospital ward for ongoing care. If SIRS is not present at 24 h, the patient is unlikely to develop organ failure or necrosis. Therefore, patients with persistent SIRS at 24 h or underlying comorbid illnesses (e.g., chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure) should be considered for a step-down unit setting if available. Patients with higher BISAP scores and elevations in hematocrit and admission BUN that do not respond to initial fluid resuscitation and exhibit evidence of respiratory failure, hypotension, or organ failure should be considered for direct admission to an intensive care unit.
Special Considerations Based on Etiology
A careful history, review of medications, selected laboratory studies (liver profile, serum triglycerides, serum calcium), and an abdominal ultrasound are recommended in the emergency ward to assess for etiologies that may impact acute management. An abdominal ultrasound is the initial imaging modality of choice and will evaluate the gallbladder and common duct and assess the pancreatic head.
Patients with evidence of ascending cholangitis (rising white blood cell count, increasing liver enzymes) should undergo ERCP within 24–48 h of admission. Patients with gallstone pancreatitis are at increased risk of recurrence, and consideration should be given to performing a cholecystectomy during the same admission or within 4–6 weeks of discharge. An alternative for patients who are not surgical candidates would be to perform an endoscopic biliary sphincterotomy before discharge.
Serum triglycerides >1000 mg/dL are associated with acute pancreatitis. Initial therapy may include insulin, heparin, or plasmapheresis. Outpatient therapies include control of diabetes if present, administration of lipid-lowering agents, weight loss, and avoidance of drugs that elevate lipid levels.
Other potential etiologies that may impact acute hospital care include hypercalcemia, autoimmune pancreatitis, post-ERCP pancreatitis, and drug-induced pancreatitis. Treatment of hyperparathyroidism or malignancy is effective at reducing serum calcium. Autoimmune pancreatitis is responsive to glucocorticoid administration. Pancreatic duct stenting and rectal indomethacin administration are effective at decreasing pancreatitis after ERCP. Drugs that cause pancreatitis should be discontinued. Multiple drugs have been implicated, but only about 30 have been challenged (Class 1A) and found to be causative.
A low-fat solid diet can be administered to subjects with mild acute pancreatitis after the abdominal pain has resolved. Enteral nutrition should be considered 2–3 days after admission in subjects with more severe pancreatitis instead of total parenteral nutrition (TPN). Enteral feeding maintains gut barrier integrity, limits bacterial translocation, is less expensive, and has fewer complications than TPN. The choice of gastric versus nasojejunal enteral feeding is currently under investigation.
Management of Local Complications
Patients exhibiting signs of clinical deterioration despite aggressive fluid resuscitation and hemodynamic monitoring should be assessed for local complications, which may include necrosis, pseudocyst formation, pancreas duct disruption, peripancreatic vascular complications, and extrapancreatic infections (Table 371-4). A multidisciplinary team approach is recommended including gastroenterology, surgery, interventional radiology, and intensive care specialists, and consideration should also be made for transfer to a pancreas center.
The management of necrosis requires a multidisciplinary team approach. Percutaneous aspiration of necrosis with Gram stain and culture should be performed if there are ongoing signs of possible pancreatic infection such as sustained leukocytosis, fever, or organ failure. There is currently no role for prophylactic antibiotics in necrotizing pancreatitis. It is reasonable to start broad-spectrum antibiotics in a patient who appears septic while awaiting the results of Gram stain and cultures. If cultures are negative, the antibiotics should be discontinued to minimize the risk of developing opportunistic or fungal superinfection. Repeated fine-needle aspiration and Gram stain with culture of pancreatic necrosis may be done every 5–7 days in the presence of persistent fever. Repeated CT or MRI imaging should also be considered with any change in clinical course to monitor for complications (e.g., thromboses, hemorrhage, abdominal compartment syndrome).
In general, sterile necrosis is most often managed conservatively unless complications arise. Once a diagnosis of infected necrosis is established and an organism identified, targeted antibiotics should be instituted. Pancreatic debridement (necrosectomy) should be considered for definitive management of infected necrosis, but clinical decisions are generally influenced by response to antibiotic treatment and overall clinical condition. Symptomatic local complications as outlined in the revised Atlanta criteria may require definitive therapy.
A step-up approach (percutaneous or endoscopic transgastric drainage followed, if necessary, by open necrosectomy) has been successfully reported by some pancreatic centers. One-third of the patients successfully treated with the step-up approach did not require major abdominal surgery. A recent randomized trial reported advantages to an initial endoscopic approach compared to an initial surgical necrosectomy approach in select patients requiring intervention for symptomatic WON. Taken together, a more conservative approach to the management of infected pancreatic necrosis has evolved over the years under the close supervision of a multidisciplinary team. If conservative therapy can be safely implemented for 4–6 weeks, to allow the pancreatic collections to resolve or “wall-off,” surgical or endoscopic intervention is generally much safer and better tolerated by the patient.
The incidence of pseudocyst is low, and most acute collections resolve over time. Less than 10% of patients have persistent fluid collections after 6 weeks that would meet the definition of a pseudocyst. Only symptomatic collections should be drained with surgery or endoscopy or by percutaneous route.
PANCREATIC DUCT DISRUPTION
Pancreatic duct disruption may present with symptoms of increasing abdominal pain or shortness of breath in the setting of an enlarging fluid collection. Diagnosis can be confirmed on magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) or ERCP. Placement of a bridging pancreatic stent for at least 6 weeks is >90% effective at resolving the leak. Nonbridging stents are less effective.
Perivascular complications may include splenic vein thrombosis with gastric varices and pseudoaneurysms. Gastric varices bleed less than 5% of the time. Life-threatening bleeding from a ruptured pseudoaneurysm can be diagnosed and treated with mesenteric angiography and embolization.
Hospital-acquired infections occur in up to 20% of patients with acute pancreatitis. Patients should be continually monitored for the development pneumonia, urinary tract infection, and line infection. Continued culturing of urine, monitoring of chest x-rays, and routine changing of intravenous lines are important during hospitalization.
Hospitalizations for moderately severe and severe acute pancreatitis can last weeks to months and often involve a period of intensive care unit admission and outpatient rehabilitation or subacute nursing care. Follow-up evaluation should assess for development of diabetes, exocrine insufficiency, recurrent cholangitis, or development of infected fluid collections. As mentioned previously, cholecystectomy should be performed within 4–6 weeks of discharge if possible for patients with uncomplicated gallstone pancreatitis.
Approximately 25% of patients who have had an attack of acute pancreatitis have a recurrence. The two most common etiologic factors are alcohol and cholelithiasis. In patients with recurrent pancreatitis without an obvious cause, the differential diagnosis should encompass occult biliary tract disease including microlithiasis, hypertriglyceridemia, drugs, pancreatic cancer, pancreas divisum, and cystic fibrosis (Table 371-1). In one series of 31 patients diagnosed initially as having idiopathic or recurrent acute pancreatitis, 23 were found to have occult gallstone disease. Thus, approximately two-thirds of patients with recurrent acute pancreatitis without an obvious cause actually have occult gallstone disease due to microlithiasis. Genetic defects as in hereditary pancreatitis and cystic fibrosis mutations can result in recurrent pancreatitis. Other diseases of the biliary tree and pancreatic ducts that can cause acute pancreatitis include choledochocele; ampullary tumors; pancreas divisum; and pancreatic duct stones, stricture, and tumor. Approximately 2–4% of patients with pancreatic carcinoma present with acute pancreatitis.
TABLE 371-4Complications of Acute Pancreatitis |Favorite Table|Download (.pdf) TABLE 371-4 Complications of Acute Pancreatitis
Pancreatic fluid collections
Disruption of main pancreatic duct or secondary branches
Involvement of contiguous organs by necrotizing pancreatitis
Thrombosis of blood vessels (splenic vein, portal vein)
Pancreatic enteric fistula
Acute respiratory distress syndrome
Nonspecific ST-T changes in electrocardiogram simulating myocardial infarction
Disseminated intravascular coagulation
Peptic ulcer disease
Hemorrhagic pancreatic necrosis with erosion into major blood vessels
Portal vein thrombosis, splenic vein thrombosis, variceal hemorrhage
Oliguria (<300 mL/d)
Renal artery and/or renal vein thrombosis
Acute tubular necrosis
Sudden blindness (Purtscher’s retinopathy)
Central nervous system
Subcutaneous tissues (erythematous nodules)
Miscellaneous (mediastinum, pleura, nervous system)
PANCREATITIS IN PATIENTS WITH AIDS
The incidence of acute pancreatitis is increased in patients with AIDS for two reasons: (1) the high incidence of infections involving the pancreas such as infections with cytomegalovirus, Cryptosporidium, and the Mycobacterium avium complex; and (2) the frequent use by patients with AIDS of medications such as didanosine, pentamidine, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, and protease inhibitors. Incidence has been markedly reduced due to advances in therapy (Chap. 226).