Acute pancreatitis is a common surgical problem, defined as an 'acute inflammatory process of pancreas, with variable involvement of regional tissues or remote organ systems'.
It accounts for 4% of admissions to hospital with abdominal pain in the UK. The severity of the disease is variable: most mild to moderate cases are self-limiting, but severe cases often require aggressive supportive care and there is a mortality of about 10% in this subset of patients. Although treatment is largely supportive, invasive intervention may be indicated in gallstone-related pancreatitis and also in the presence of severe necrosis or haemorrhagic complications.
In April 2005, a UK working party with contributors drawn from various GI organisations updated the previous 1998 guidelines for the management of acute pancreatitis. Both the 1998 and 2005 guidelines are available online.  
Causes of Pancreatitis
- Gallstone disease
- Drugs, e.g. steroids, azathioprine
History and examination. Part of diagnosis involves excluding other intra-abdominal disasters.
The main diagnostic investigation in clinical use is serum amylase, although lipase is often used in America. 3-4 times the upper limit of normal amylase is highly suggestive of pancreatitis, although hyperamylasaemia can be caused by other conditions, e.g. renal failure, mumps, salivary gland problems and other GI conditions.
False negatives can occur in:
- Hyperlipidaemia (which interferes with assay).
- Assay several days after initial pain (amylase levels have fallen).
- Alcohol-related pancreatitis.
- Acute exacerbations of chronic pancreatitis.
- Resuscitation - patients are often hypovolaemic from prior poor oral intake, vomiting, 'third spacing' of fluids and SIRS.
- Assess likely severity (see Risk stratification below)
- Supportive care
- Identify cause
- Treat if appropriate (e.g. cholecystectomy within 4-6 weeks)
- Antibiotics may be considered in infected necrosis. Its role in prophylaxis is unclear with a recent RCT suggesting no benefit.
- Surgery is rarely required, but may be necessary in certain local complications.
Traditional teaching is to avoid morphine as it was supposed to cause sphincter of Oddi spasm, therefore potentially worsening pain and biliary obstruction. Although pethidine has been advocated as an alternative on the basis of a diminished effect on the sphincter pressure, it is a weaker opioid and is associated with dysphoria, accumulation of metabolites and lowering of the seizure threshold in susceptible patients. The evidence suggests that an increase in sphincter pressure occurs with all opioids  and for this reason, the most effective opioid with the least side-effects is preferred.
See also Diagnosis
Various scores have been used to try to assess the severity of disease and to predict outcomes. Both the Ranson's score and modified Glasgow score were designed specifically for pancreatitis, whereas scores like APACHE II are more general pathophysiological scores with wider applications. The Atlanta criteria considers several factors:
- APACHE II score >8
- Ranson's criteria 3 or more
- Pulmonary insufficiency
- Renal insufficiency
- GI bleeding
- Bacterial super-infection of necrotic tissue
- Pancreatic pseudocyst (usually 4-6 weeks after)
- Systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS)
- Acute renal failure
- Acute lung injury/Adult respiratory distress syndrome
- ↑ United Kingdom guidelines for the management of acute pancreatitis. British Society of Gastroenterology. Gut. 1998 Jun;42 Suppl 2:S1-13.. Direct link: http://gut.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/42/suppl_2/S1
- ↑ Working Party of the British Society of Gastroenterology; Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland; Pancreatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland; Association of Upper GI Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland. UK guidelines for the management of acute pancreatitis. Gut. 2005 May;54 Suppl 3:iii1-9.. Direct link: http://gut.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/54/suppl_3/iii1
- ↑ Kingsnorth A, O'Reilly D. Acute pancreatitis. BMJ. 2006 May 6;332(7549):1072-6.
- ↑ Whitcomb DC. Clinical practice. Acute pancreatitis. The New England journal of medicine. 2006;354:2142-50. (Direct link – subscription may be required.)
- ↑ Yadav D, Agarwal N, Pitchumoni CS. A critical evaluation of laboratory tests in acute pancreatitis. The American journal of gastroenterology. 2002;97:1309-18.
- ↑ Spechler SJ, Dalton JW, Robbins AH, Gerzof SG, Stern JS, Johnson WC, et al. Prevalence of normal serum amylase levels in patients with acute alcoholic pancreatitis. Digestive diseases and sciences. 1983;28:865-9.
- ↑ Dellinger EP, Tellado JM, Soto NE, Ashley SW, Barie PS, Dugernier T, et al. Early antibiotic treatment for severe acute necrotizing pancreatitis: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Annals of surgery 2007;245(5):674-83. (Direct link – subscription may be required.)
- ↑ Latta KS, Ginsberg B, Barkin RL. Meperidine: a critical review. Am J Ther. 2002 Jan-Feb;9(1):53-68.
- ↑ Thompson DR. Narcotic analgesic effects on the sphincter of Oddi: a review of the data and therapeutic implications in treating pancreatitis. Am J Gastroenterol. 2001 Apr;96(4):1266-72. See also related articles listed in Pubmed
- ↑ Bradley EL. A clinically based classification system for acute pancreatitis. Summary of the International Symposium on Acute Pancreatitis, Atlanta, Ga, September 11 through 13, 1992. Archives of surgery (Chicago, Ill. : 1960) 1993;128(5):586-90.