Gastroenterology & Hepatology

Acute and Chronic Pancreatitis

January 17, 2017

In this section, I’ll outline important facts about Acute Pancreatitis and Chronic Pancreatitis that most residents and hospitalists should be aware of.



Acute Pancreatitis

  • Hospitalists, listen up!  This is the #1 GI cause of hospitalization in the States.
  • Clinically:
    • c/c severe epigastric pain
    • 80% are classified as “Mild Pancreatitis”
      • Recovery within few days
    • 20% are classified as either Moderate or Severe
      • Moderate:  pancreatic necrosis, fluid collections, and temporary organ dysfunction outside of pancreas.
      • Severe:  3+ days of organ failure, predictor of death.
        • BUN > 20 mg/dL, Hct > 44%, and elevated Creatinine are POOR PROGNOSTIC criteria.
  • Pathophysiology:
    • Capillary leak syndrome is caused by SIRS; led by premature activation of pancreatic enzymes leading to autodigestion.
    • 80% of acute pancreatitis is caused by gallstones and alcohol.
    • Remaining 20%:
      • Meds – lasix, asparaginase, didanosine, mesalamine, HCTZ, 6-MP/AZA, simvastatin.
      • Triglyceridemia (1,000 and up) and/or Hypercalcemia
      • Choledochocele
      • Post-ERCP
      • Very rarely:  viral/parasitic infection, trauma, ischemia, Celiac disease, autoimmune.
  • Diagnosis of Acute Pancreatitis:
    • Need 2/3 of the following:
      • acute epigastric pain (may radiate to back), better when leaning forward
      • serum lipase > 3x upper limit of normal
      • CT or MRI findings consistent with inflammatory process.
    • Symptomatic pleural effusion may result, due to SIRS process.
    • LFT elevation – think common bile duct obstruction.
    • A common etiology is gallstones, therefore all patients need transabdominal US.
    • CT Abdomen with contrast is NOT required for the diagnosis; it may miss some gallstones.
  • Treatment of Acute Pancreatitis:
    • IV Fluid hydration, NPO, pain control PRN, and Zofran/Phenergan PRN nausea.
      • IVF @ 250-500 mL/hr is critical in the immediate setting (12-24 hours)
    • When to begin ORAL feeding:
      • Severe pancreatitis = in 72 hours
        • This protocol actually reduces mortality, infections, and organ failure!
      • Mild-moderate = when nausea/vomiting abates.
    • AVOID TPN.
  • Acute Pancreatitis Complications:
    • Pseudocysts = persistent interstitial fluid collections (peripancreatic) with encapsulation after 4 weeks.
    • Walled-off necrosis = after 4 weeks, once necrotic tissue becomes encapsulated.
    • Most will resolves on their own.
    • Diabetes mellitus, gastric outlet obstruction, splenic vein thrombosis, colonic necrosis, gastric variceal bleeding.

Chronic Pancreatitis

  • Clinically:
    • c/c Epigastric pain with radiation to the back, waxes and wanes.
    • Consider pseudocyst or biliary/pancreatic duct stricture if constant pain.
    • Bulky/greasy stool owing to pancreatic lipase insufficiency.
    • Diabetes mellitus due to malfunction of endocrine portion of pancreas.
  • Pathophysiology:
    • Chronic inflammatory condition, usually caused by alcohol use exceeding 50-80 g/day (single drink = 14 g of alcohol)
    • Other important causes:
      • Tobacco is independent risk factor.
      • Genetic mutations of certain genes
      • Obstructive, secondary to pancreatic head tumor, intraductal mucinous neoplasm, trauma with ductal stricture.
      • Recurrent severe acute pancreatitis
      • Irradiation-induced
      • Celiac disease or autoimmune pancreatitis
      • Idiopathic
  • Diagnosis of Chronic Pancreatitis:
    • Amylase and lipase levels are typically normal
    • Typical clinical features and calcifications on abdominal imaging.
    • Supporting criteria:  bulky/greasy stools, diabetes
    • If CT abdomen cannot find calcifications of pancreas, consult GI for endoscopic US (EUS).
    • Quantitative 72-hour fecal fat testing, direct CCK or secretin stim. tests also available.
  • Treatment of Chronic Pancreatitis:
    • Educate patient:  STOP smoking.
    • Pain control with acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and tramadol.
    • Low-dose TCAs and gabapentinoids if none of above work.
    • Pancreatic enzymes, including 90,000 USP lipase with meals, half dose with snacks.
    • Endoscopic stenting of culprit ductal lesions.


  • ACP MKSAP 17:  Gastroenterology and Hepatology, pgs. 23-27
  • Image source:
    • CT image showing numerous calcifications within parenchyma of pancreas.

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