American family physician | 5 Nov 2014
Acute pancreatitis is most commonly caused by gallstones or chronic alcohol use, and accounts for more than 200,000 hospital admissions annually. Using the Atlanta criteria, acute pancreatitis is diagnosed when a patient presents with two of three findings, including abdominal pain suggestive of pancreatitis, serum amylase and/or lipase levels at least three times the normal level, and characteristic findings on imaging. It is important to distinguish mild from severe disease because severe pancreatitis has a mortality rate of up to 30%. Contrast-enhanced computed tomography is considered the diagnostic standard for radiologic evaluation of acute pancreatitis because of its success in predicting disease severity and prognosis. The BALI and computed tomography severity index scores also can aid in determining disease severity and predicting the likelihood of complications. Treatment begins with pain control, hydration, and bowel rest. In the first 48 to 72 hours of treatment, monitoring is required to prevent morbidity and mortality associated with worsening pancreatitis. When prolonged bowel rest is indicated, enteral nutrition is associated with lower rates of complications, including death, multiorgan failure, local complications, and systemic infections, than parenteral nutrition. In severe cases involving greater than 30% necrosis, antibiotic prophylaxis with imipenem/cilastatin decreases the risk of pancreatic infection. In gallstone-associated pancreatitis, early cholecystectomy and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography with sphincterotomy can decrease length of hospital stay and complication rates. A multidisciplinary approach to care is essential in cases involving pancreatic necrosis.
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