Acute Pancreatitis Risks and Treatment

Risk Stratification of Acute Pancreatitis

In most cases, acute pancreatitis resolves with therapy, but approximately 15% of patients develop severe disease.3 Severe acute pancreatitis can lead to life-threatening failure of multiple organs and to infection. Therefore, it is extremely important to seek medical attention if experiencing signs or symptoms of acute pancreatitis. Several clinical risk-scoring systems are available to help physicians predict who is most likely to develop severe acute pancreatitis. These scores rely on several pieces of clinical data collected at admission and during the first 48 hours of hospitalization. Commonly used scoring systems include:

  • The Bedside Index of Severity in Acute Pancreatitis (BISAP)
  • The Ranson criteria
  • The APACHE II score

Treatment of Acute Pancreatitis

Fluids

One of the primary therapies for acute pancreatitis is adequate early fluid resuscitation, especially within the first 24 hours of onset. Pancreatitis is associated with a lot of swelling and inflammation. Giving fluids intravenously prevents dehydration and ensures that the rest of the organs of the body get adequate blood flow to support the healing process.

Nutritional Support

Initially, no nutrition is given to rest the pancreas and bowels during the first 24 to 48 hours. After 48 hours, a plan to provide nutrition should be implemented because acute pancreatitis is a highly active state of inflammation and injury that requires a lot of calories to support the healing process. In most cases, patients can start to take in food on their own by 48 hours. If this is not possible, then a feeding tube that is passed through the nose into the intestines can be used to provide nutrition. This method is safer than providing nutrition intravenously. There is no benefit to using probiotics for acute pancreatitis.

Pain Control

Intravenous medications, typically potent narcotic pain medications, are effective in controlling pain associated with acute pancreatitis. Nausea is a common symptom and can be due to pancreatic inflammation as well as slowing of the bowels. Effective intravenous medications are available for nausea. Pain and nausea will decrease as the inflammation resolves.

Treatment of Underlying Issues

In addition to providing supportive care, underlying causes need to be promptly evaluated. If the acute pancreatitis is thought to be due to gallstones, medication, high triglycerides, or high calcium levels within the patient’s body (or other external causes), directed therapy can be implemented.

Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

ERCP is a procedure in which a physician with specialized training passes a flexible, thin tube with a camera attached to the end through the patient’s mouth and into the first part of the small intestine, where the bile duct and pancreatic duct exit. With this device, a small catheter can be passed into the bile duct to remove gallstones that might have gotten stuck and are the cause of pancreatitis. In certain situations, a special catheter can also be passed into the pancreatic duct to help the pancreas heal. For more information on ERCP, please click here.

The Following Procedures can be Performed With ERCP:
  • Sphincterotomy

    Using a small wire on the endoscope, a physician finds the muscle that surrounds the pancreatic duct or bile duct and makes a tiny cut to enlarge the duct opening. When a pseudocyst is present, the duct is drained.

  • Gallstone removal

    The endoscope is used to remove pancreatic or bile duct stones with a tiny basket. Gallstone removal is sometimes performed along with a sphincterotomy.

  • Stent placement

    Using the endoscope, a physician places a tiny piece of plastic or metal that looks like a straw into a narrowed pancreatic or bile duct to keep it open.

  • Balloon dilatation

    Some endoscopes have a small balloon that a physician uses to dilate, or stretch, a narrowed pancreatic or bile duct. A temporary stent can be placed for a few months to keep the duct open.

It is well documented that one of the main side effects of ERCP is pancreatitis; however, there are several clearly defined situations when urgent ERCP is indicated for acute pancreatitis.

Antioxidant therapies

Basic and clinical evidence suggests that the development of both acute pancreatitis (AP) and chronic pancreatitis (CP) can be associated with oxidative stress. Findings show that free radical activity and oxidative stress indices are higher in the blood and duodenal juice of patients with pancreatitis.

Based on these findings, the idea of using antioxidant regimens in the management of both AP and CP as a supplement and complementary in combination with its traditional therapy is reasonable. In practice, however, the overall effectiveness of antioxidants is not known, and the best mixture of agents and dosages is not clear. Currently, a trial of a mixture of antioxidants containing vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and methionine is reasonable as one component of overall medical management.

In summation, there is no definite consensus on the dosage, length of therapy, and ultimately, the benefits of antioxidant therapy in the management of AP or CP. Further well-designed clinical studies are needed to determine the appropriate combination of agents, time of initiation, and duration of therapy.

Treatment Considerations for Severe Acute Pancreatitis

Necrotizing pancreatitis:

The definition of severe acute pancreatitis includes cases in which a portion of pancreatic tissue is no longer viable because of injury—this is called necrosis. Over time, the body will resorb this dead tissue. In some cases, this dead tissue can become a source of infection. When infection is suspected, diagnosis can be made by needle biopsy, and if confirmed, medical treatment with antibiotics is required along with consideration of drainage.