Peter B. Cotton
9. Complications of pancreatitis
Douglas A. Howell
Complications of acute and chronic pancreatitis are varied, often complex, and potentially fatal. This chapter will attempt
to summarize all of these feared developments, address their causation, and review current and potential future approaches.
The first section deals with the toxic and metabolic complications. Early death from pancreatitis most frequently follows
shock, a poorly understood but dramatic occurrence seen, fortunately, in a small minority. All organ systems may be affected,
in a fashion that can range from mild to very severe, resulting in renal failure, respiratory failure, disseminated intravascular
coagulation, and severe gastrointestinal bleeding. Prolonged septic-like systemic inflammatory response syndrome may result
in coma, and a profound catabolic state untreatable by total parenteral nutrition.
Recent clinical experience has recognized the major difference in clinical course and treatment when pancreatic necrosis complicates
the early phase of acute pancreatitis. Diagnosis, treatment, and predictors of outcome are addressed.
The chapter closes with a comprehensive review of the main miscellaneous complications which are often recognized during the
later phase of pancreatitis. Patients who appear to be recovering may experience fistula formation, producing acute pancreatic
hydrothorax or enteric fistulas. Percutaneous or surgical drainage is a frequent cause of cutaneous fistulas, a particularly
difficult and debilitating complication. Finally, dramatic and potentially fatal vascular complication can occur very abruptly,
taxing the diagnostic and interventional skills of the treating team.
Throughout this review up-to-date reports of successful approaches to all of these events are addressed. We emphasize that
since controlled trials of newer treatment modalities have, in general, not been directly compared to traditional surgical
therapy, a multidisciplinary approach with gastroenterology, interventional radiology, and surgery is vital.
Toxic and metabolic complications
Few diseases can produce more varied and severe diffuse metabolic complications than acute pancreatitis. Although the organ
weighs only 90 g in the adult, when inflamed, the pancreas can produce such profound systemic effects that respiratory, renal,
and circulatory failure can rapidly ensue, producing multiorgan system death within a few days. In patients with severe acute
pancreatitis, the likely sequence is peripancreatic leakage of proteolytic juice, activation of proinflammatory cytokines,
third space loss secondary to retroperitoneal injury, hypoperfusion, and finally, rapid progression to frank pancreatic necrosis.
This sequence is variable and may appear as partial individual organ compromise or full-blown multiorgan failure. The recognition
of these end organ complications served as the basis for the famous 'Ranson's criteria', which has for nearly 30 years remained the most popular clinical measure of the severity of acute pancreatitis
(Fig. 1) .
A principal drawback to Ranson's scoring system has been the need to reassess the patient at 48 h before a final score can
be calculated. In an effort to predict severity as early as possible to help triage patients to the most appropriate level
of care, several other clinical scoring systems have been advocated . The Acute Physiologic and Chronic Health Evaluation scoring system (APACHE II and III) permits a more comprehensive initial
assessment of severity. Khan pointed out recently that since the natural history of pancreatitis varies considerably depending
upon underlying etiology, patient responses, and presence of comorbidity, APACHE scoring, when repeated at 48 h, as in Ranson's criteria, more accurately predicts outcome .
The modified Glasgow Coma/Imrie score has also been used to predict severity and thus the development of complications. One direct comparison of these
three scoring systems recently reported that APACHE III and modified Glasgow/Imrie had a greater magnitude of correlation with length of hospital stay as a measure of severity than did Ranson's traditional
criteria . However, death was equally predicted, with fatal cases uniformly having > 5 Ranson criteria, APACHE III scores > 30 at 96 h, and modified Glasgow/Imrie scores > 4.
Alternatively, in a slightly smaller but contemporary study, Ranson's criteria, particularly at 48 h, remained a valid scoring system for severity of pancreatitis when compared to the newest APACHE III scoring . Because of its inherit simplicity, the authors advocated the continued use of the venerable Ranson's criteria and emphasized
that elevated BUN, low calcium, base deficit, and third space loss predicted mortality.
In clinical practice currently, a CT-based measure of severity has proved valuable when added to clinical scoring . Robert recently analysed all available clinical scoring systems plus a CT scan score of severity in 130 patients . Multivariate analysis revealed that low serum albumin plus extra pancreatic fluid collections on initial CT scanning within
the first 24 h was the best predictor of severe pancreatitis overall.
Although some concern has been raised as to the potential for renal toxicity of contrast-enhanced early CT scanning in acute
pancreatitis, the general consensus suggests that the value of the information gained remains worthwhile .
Shock and renal failure have traditionally been the most frequent and perhaps the most feared of the potential toxic and metabolic
complications of acute pancreatitis. In the mid-1960s, Frey reported a 22% rate of shock and renal failure in his series of
490 patients . At that time mortality followed in nearly 80% of these complications.
Although shock and renal failure are associated in most patients, oliguria and even anuria requiring prolonged dialysis can
be seen in euvolemic patients with normal blood pressures throughout their early illness. This dramatic systemic complication
is attributed to profound renal cortical vasoconstriction due to poorly understood nephrotoxic vasoactive circulating factors
produced by the acute inflammatory response. Permanent renal failure eventuating in renal transplantation rarely occurs.
Respiratory complications occur in a variable percentage and often in a stepwise fashion, with hypoxemia with a normal chest
X-ray being the most frequently recognized. Pulmonary infiltrates, atelectasis with elevated diaphragms, and pleural effusions
may then ensue and progress to full-blown acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), often requiring ventilatory support.
This sequence is again poorly understood but appears to be precipitated by circulating proinflammatory cytokines due to the
retroperitoneal proteolytic injury, producing an alveolar capillary leak. The flood of protein-rich fluid can, at times, produce
such complete consolidation that mechanical ventilation cannot compensate, resulting in a respiratory death .
Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) is a less frequent complication of acute pancreatitis . DIC may produce severe bleeding since extensive retroperitoneal injury is present. The consequence of such hemorrhage can
greatly worsen the above outlined systemic complications.
A more recently described toxic reaction to pancreatitis has been termed systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) . High fever, tachycardia, and delirium may persist for days or even weeks and may be difficult to distinguish from bacterial
sepsis. This syndrome can produce a profoundly catabolic state that cannot be adequately reversed with total parenteral nutrition
In patients with severe SIRS, fine-needle radiologically guided aspiration of retroperitoneal fluid collections has proved
to be valuable for distinguishing this syndrome from complicating retroperitoneal infection. To avoid potential contamination
of otherwise sterile fluid, a fastidious technique to avoid traversing bowel, particularly colon, and with adequate skin preparation,
is mandatory [15,16].
In patients with a less severe form of SIRS, TPN can be switched to enteral feeding to further minimize pancreatic stimulation;
Takacs demonstrated that adding octreotide to enteric feedings reduces gastrointestinal hormone release (CCK, glucagon, gastrin,
and glucose) to baseline . Windsor has developed evidence that this change to the enteral route for nutrition can actually diminish the inflammatory
response and lead to more rapid improvement compared to continuing TPN . Tube placement, duodenal edema, and prolonged ileus may all hamper the initiation of enteral feeding in sicker patients,
Platelet activating factor (PAF) has been implicated in the pathogenesis of SIRS, possibly by amplifying mediators of inflammation.
Unfortunately, an attempt to block this effect by the infusion of lexiphant, a potent inhibitor of PAF, was demonstrated to
have no clinical benefit in a placebo-controlled trial .
Death due to acute pancreatitis follows two patterns: early (within 1, or in some series, 2 weeks) and late. Early death is
secondary to these incompletely understood severe metabolic inflammatory responses leading to multiorgan system failure. Death
later than 2 weeks is generally secondary to sepsis and represents about one-half of fatal cases . Death rates in various recent series with variable etiologies range from 2 to 9%, which represents a marked improvement
compared to the pre-TPN era .
Factors which may be important in the sequence of rapid onset multiorgan system failure are under active research. Ethridge
et al. recently studied the impact of cyclo-oxygenase (COX) on pancreatitis severity, especially with regard to lung injury . In their mouse model, inhibition of COX-2 or deletion of the COX gene profoundly decreased severity of pancreatitis and
protected against ARDS.
Host response may prove to be a critical determinate of the severity of pancreatitis and the resulting complications [23,24]. A defect in interleukin-10 function has been identified in some patients with severe acute pancreatitis . This defect might result in a failure to down-regulate the initial acute inflammatory reaction once they have been maximally
stimulated. If confirmed, this finding would help us to understand why these seemingly unpredictable complications may be
seen even after rather trivial injury, such as after simple cannulation or unremarkable sphincterotomy at ERCP.
In an attempt to prevent post-ERCP pancreatitis, an initial randomized trial of a single bolus of interleukin-10 (8 µg/kg) was given to patients 15 min prior to ERCP and compared to a placebo group . Unfortunately, both groups experienced the identical rate of pancreatitis and, furthermore, the severity as measured by
length of stay was the same. Nevertheless, a full understanding of the role of pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines may be
the best hope of preventing or at least attenuating the severity of acute pancreatitis.
Pancreatic fluid collections
In the setting of pancreatitis, fluid collections are frequent and have been used as a measure of severity to create a CT-based
score as previously discussed . When combined with extent of non-perfusion (equivalent to necrosis) and detection of retroperitoneal complications, CT becomes
a vital tool in predicting severity .
Fluid collections are at first sterile, amylase rich, and unorganized. They are seen early, often within 24 h, and may persist. Unencapsulated and younger than 4 weeks from the onset of pancreatitis, they are properly watched expectantly
(Fig. 2 B). If necrosis is not present, infection is rare. Whether they will persist, organize, and encapsulate beyond 4 weeks into
a true pseudocyst largely depends on pancreatic ductal anatomy and the presence of necrosis. Normal ductal and sphincter anatomy
predicts spontaneous resolution, whereas fistula, ductal obstruction, or disruption predict persistence and pseudocyst formation
. Finally, necrosis will organize slowly and an associated fluid collection will usually become a complex pseudocyst; this
might be better termed an area of 'organizing necrosis' to distinguish them .
Pseudocysts and abscesses
A pseudocyst of the pancreas is a maturing fluid collection surrounded by granulation tissue which occurs as a consequence
of acute or chronic leakage of pancreatic juice (Fig. 2A). In distinction, acute fluid collections may be wholly inflammatory and will frequently resolve. Alternatively, severe
ductal disruption with a consequent large fistula will virtually always result in pseudocyst formation [30,31].
Prior to any decision regarding management, a pancreatic pseudocyst must be carefully distinguished from other cystic or fluid-filled
collections in the retroperitoneum . In the absence of a definite attack of pancreatitis, some pseudocysts may be exceedingly difficult to differentiate from
true cystic neoplasms. [36,37]. Inadvertent endoscopic or surgical drainage of true neoplasms is ineffective and occasionally disastrous. Be aware that
obstructing neoplasms, usually malignant, can produce acute or chronic pancreatitis and result in a pseudocyst. These combination
cases can be extremely challenging to diagnose and treat . In most cases careful clinical history, dynamic CT, and pancreatography are necessary prior to establishing a complete diagnosis.
In atypical cases, endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) adds important diagnostic information, especially if a small obstructing tumour
or a cystic neoplasm is present .
The evolving pseudocyst requires time to develop a complete encircling wall which, of course, lacks an epithelial lining (Fig. 2 B). By recent consensus, 4 weeks has been chosen as a minimal time from the onset of acute pancreatitis until this process
is reasonably complete and the collection can be termed a pseudocyst . The development of a pseudocyst in chronic pancreatitis is often more difficult to precisely age. These collections often
occur more gradually as a consequence of ductal obstruction by stones or fibrotic strictures and are frequently mature upon
discovery. Once a secure diagnosis of a mature or maturing pseudocyst is established, the clinician must remember that many
pseudocysts will still resolve. Early authors emphasized that pseudocysts larger than 6 cm rarely resolve, but size alone does not always warrant intervention . Etiology remains important since pseudocysts complicating acute pancreatitis are much more likely to resolve than those
due to chronic pancreatitis . Clinicians were formerly hesitant to follow pseudocysts for fear of the spontaneous development of complications, especially
infection and hemorrhage. However, several authors have reported a surprisingly low incidence of adverse events during follow-ups
in asymptomatic patients with stable or slowly resolving pseudocysts [45,46].
In general, patients with continued ductal leakage communicating with the pseudocyst will not stabilize and permit resumption
of a diet (Fig. 3). Clinicians should be suspicious if, after initial improvement with symptom resolution on IV therapy (with or without TPN
and octreotide), pain returns upon oral feeding. A serious ductal injury or leak is often present in this setting .
Unchecked, continued leakage with resulting expansion can produce a series of additional complications. Progressive enlargement
in the usual retrogastric position will produce gastric compression resulting in early satiety, nausea, vomiting, pain, and
weight loss. Frank outlet obstruction usually occurs at the pylorus or in the duodenal sweep (Fig. 4). When the ampullary area and pancreatic head are involved obstructive jaundice often occurs.
The accumulating fresh enzyme-rich pancreatic juice from a ductal leak can lead to damage and digestion of additional retroperitoneal
structures such as blood vessels, or adjacent hollow organs such as the duodenum or colon, or lead to spontaneous perforation
into the peritoneal cavity resulting in pancreatic ascites.
Spontaneous infection of a pseudocyst is a feared late complication. Formerly termed infected pseudocyst, the preferred term
now is pancreatic abscess . The source of the infecting organism is often unknown, presumably from transmigration of nearby colonic bacteria or from
transient bacteremia, but may follow line sepsis or fine-needle aspiration. Gas-producing organisms produce multiple small
air bubbles in the pseudocyst, but the presence of gross air within the cavity is often due to fistulization to the duodenum
or colon (Fig. 5).
Gaining an understanding of the pancreatic ductal anatomy earlier in the course of pseudocyst patients holds the promise of
allowing earlier necessary intervention in pancreatitis patients [28,49]. Traditionally, diagnostic ERCP has been the major test for defining pancreatic ductal anatomy, but most clinicians would
not perform early ERCP due to the fear of introducing potentially catastrophic infection. Magnetic resonance pancreatography
(MRP) is proving useful in detecting major disruption and predicting the need for intervention without this risk. In our experience
MRP does not permit reliable ductal anatomy in lesser leaks since communicating fistulas may contain very little of the static
fluid upon which MRCP depends for imaging.
Once the need for intervention has become apparent, the choice of drainage has gradually yielded to endoscopic transmural
and transpapillary techniques [50,51]. Clear indications for intervention in well-defined pseudocysts are summarized in Fig. 6. Radiological drainage remains popular in some centres but risks include prolonged drainage, introducing infection, and establishing
a fistula when ductal obstruction or disruption is present [30,52].
The detailed techniques of endoscopic drainage are outlined completely in several recent comprehensive reviews [53,54]. To summarize, transmural endoscopic puncture begins with first identification of the appropriate site, then proceeds to
needle localization with injection of contrast, puncture (Fig. 7 A, B) 10 mm balloon dilation of the tract, and, finally, multiple stent placement (Fig. 8 A, B, C, D).
Transpapillary therapy involves pancreatic stent placement with or without pancreatic sphincterotomy . We have employed pancreatic sphincterotomy alone when the anatomy suggests that complete decompression of the duct by transecting
the sphincter muscle should be adequate, thus avoiding the risks of pancreatic stent placement.
A recent long-term follow-up of such endoscopically treated pseudocysts reported excellent results with 15% (6 of 38) recurrence,
all in alcohol-induced and therefore, chronic pancreatitis . Complications of endoscopic drainage include perforation when the true lumen of the pseudocyst is missed or the pseudocyst
is not adherent or sufficiently organized. Severe bleeding, especially from the gastric wall was a former frequent complication
when simple diathermic puncture was followed by extension of the entry point using a sphincterotome . A recently described technique of drainage to avoid any cautery advocated placing a guidewire through a special needle used
for the initial localizing puncture. Once the guidewire is within the cavity, balloon dilation alone is used to create the
endoscopic cystenterostomy drainage site .
Overall, the success rates for endoscopic pseudocyst drainage are summarized in Fig. 9 and approach 80%. The complication risk and recurrence rates stated in these studies are included in Fig. 10 and were 12 and 16%, respectively. Finally, recurrences could be retreated endosurgically about 50% of the time, relegating
surgery to only 8 patients out of the 141 cases selected and reported.
The role of EUS pseudocyst management remains in evolution (Fig. 11). Some authors report rarely needing or using EUS but others consider EUS valuable in selecting appropriate drainage sites,
excluding intervening blood vessels, and determining depth of puncture [53,61]. However, when collected as diagnostic this information may be difficult to transfer to actual therapy, which is generally
done with larger-channel therapeutic endoscopes whose angle of view and therefore alignment for puncture is different from
EUS [62,62]. Direct EUS therapeutic drainage but placing 7 Fr stents has been reported, but results are unlikely to equal 10 Fr drainage
. Finally, the development of a therapeutic 4.2 channel EUS endoscope has permitted complete therapy, including 10 Fr stent
placement in pseudocyst patients . As EUS becomes a more available therapeutic technique this approach may compete well with our current endoscopic transmural
Finally, laparoscopically directed pseudocyst drainage has been reported but appears to be more invasive, more costly, and
has not defined a superior outcome .
Necrosis of pancreatic tissue complicates acute pancreatitis in a variable percentage of cases, is seen less often in acute
exacerbations of chronic pancreatitis, and accounts for many of the complications and much of the mortality (Fig. 12). Etiologies may have an impact on severity with the pancreatitis caused by hypertriglyceridemia producing necrosis in perhaps
the highest percentage of at-risk cases .
In a large single institutional review, Blum et al. reported a respectably low overall mortality rate of 5% amongst 368 cases of acute pancreatitis, again with about half being
earlier than 2 weeks and the remainder later. To emphasize the importance of necrosis, only 36 cases (10%) had documented
necrosis but accounted for 9 of the overall 17 deaths. Thus, presence of necrosis resulted in an eventual death rate of 25%.
Finally, the authors noted that late deaths in the absence of necrosis were seen in only 4 of 212 patients at risk (2%).
At present, the exact mechanism of necrosis is unknown but ischemic infarction is held as most likely. Poor perfusion secondary
to rapid third space loss has been postulated but recent data suggest that the process of necrosis may be underway very rapidly
before perfusion is affected. In a retrospective case analysis, patients with necrosis presented earlier but had a similar
incidence of hemoconcentration compared to patients with interstitial pancreatitis . Resuscitation volumes were similar retrospectively in both groups. However, patients whose hematocrits continued to rise
despite large volumes of fluid resuscitation were all subsequently proven to have necrosis. A cause and effect of inadequate
resuscitation could not be established.
The consequence of necrosis is a high likelihood of developing infection in the devitalized tissue, and the loss of a functioning
pancreas with consequent diabetes, fistula formation, and various vascular injuries. Many of these complications result in
the need for operative and, more recently, ensodcopic management.
Since pancreatic necrosis produces significant morbidity and a large proportion of the late mortality caused by acute pancreatitis,
a search for necrosis using dynamic CT is generally felt justified .
Management of necrosis initially is conservative, with the expectation of most patients who do not develop infection eventually
spontaneously resolving . However, once the necrotic tissue becomes infected, intervention is almost always required. At present, the majority of
these patients are still best managed with surgical debridement and drainage, almost always externally . Prolonged hospitalization with multiple procedures often follows, with surgical centers favouring either closed drainage
with subsequent radiologically assisted catheter drainage or open drainage with surgically placed abdominal mesh to permit
planned repeated debridements .
A few cases of attempted retroperitoneal laparoscopic necrosectomy have been reported [71,72]. At present this experience is anecdotal and no comparative trials have yet been reported. The risk of sudden and severe
bleeding, and the need for multiple repeat interventions have prevented wide adoption of the technique.
In an attempt to prevent the development of infection in the setting of necrosis, the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics, especially
imipenem, has reached a consensus. All eight recently reviewed trials demonstrated benefit in the patients receiving broad-spectrum
antibiotics . Many questions remain as to the use of newer antibiotics, the duration of therapy, the timing of onset of use, and the need
for fungal coverage [74,75].
As stated earlier, persistent necrotic material organizes and encapsulates into a complex collection containing a mixture
of solid and semisolid debris and fluid. Simple catheter drainage will be insufficient to evacuate this material and infection
will often complicate such efforts. When approaching apparent pseudocyst patients, it is of paramount importance to assess
for necrosis, then plan and treat patients appropriately . Endoscopic treatment of organizing necrosis is possible but demands techniques of wider drainage such as the placement of
multiple stents, creation of a large cyst gastrostomy, and at times nasocystic lavage  (Fig. 13 A, B, C, D).
Repeated endoscopic procedures should be anticipated since cavity infections will occur in greater than 50%. When prompt reintervention
is performed, these infections can usually be managed with lavage and repeat or additional stent placement. Nevertheless,
a multidisciplinary approach to these cases is mandatory for optimal patient outcome. The interventional disciplines of surgery,
gastroenterology, and radiology all have roles to play in specific situations .
These occur in both interstitial and necrotizing pancreatitis. In the presence of an intact pancreatic sphincter or a ductal
stricture, the initial leak continues and, as discussed earlier, is often the etiology of pseudocyst formation. At times and
for unclear reasons, some collections do not wall-off and the fistula may track throughout the retroperitoneum. Fistulous
communication under the diaphragmatic cruri can result in amylase-rich pleural effusions, broncho-pleural fistulas, or even
pericardial tamponade [77,78]. Cases of inguinal, scrotal, femoral, and other hernias developing with amylase-rich fluid tracking down these potential
spaces have been reported.
Internal fistulas adjacent to hollow organs are perhaps the most frequently recognized. Fistulization to the duodenum may
result in resolution of an otherwise expanding pseudocyst as mentioned earlier . Communication between a pseudocyst and the colon will be complicated by sepsis and generally will require surgery. However,
Howell et al. reported successful endoscopic treatment of two such cases without requiring surgery .
Perhaps, the most dramatic consequence of a pancreatic ductal fistula is pancreatic ascites. Easily diagnosed by routine testing
of paracentesis fluid for amylase, these rather rare cases are often overlooked and treated mistakenly as cirrhotic ascites
since liver and pancreatic disease often coexist in the alcoholic.
Finally, cutaneous pancreatic fistulas occur after attempts at external drainage are performed. Although these very severe,
disabling fistulas are occasionally unavoidable, they are often a consequence of imprecise knowledge of the true diagnosis
or the lack of appreciation of the importance of ductal anatomy (Fig. 14).
Currently, many of these complex fistulas can be managed endoscopically providing the duct is intact to the papilla. Various
authors advocate pancreatic stent placement or nasopancreatic drainage with or without pancreatic sphincterotomy. Rapid closure
of these fistulae can be expected with effective endoscopic transpapillary drainage. If no infection is present, endoscopic
management is often definitive and should be attempted before external drainage establishes a cutaneous fistula .
Severe ductal disruption is the rule in necrosis cases but can be seen in well-perfused interstitial pancreatitis. To define
the term, disruption occurs when the main pancreatic duct has been transected by the inflammatory process of pancreatitis,
most likely by direct proteolytic digestion or ischemic infarction. Ductal disruption greatly complicates the approach to
treatment and worsens outcome in both acute and chronic pancreatitis. Spontaneous resolution without intervention is very
unlikely to occur. External cutaneous fistulae usually follow a percutaneous or surgical drainage approach due to the presence
of a viable but disconnected gland. Although the downstream pancreas can be drained and diverted endoscopically by transpapillary
therapy, the upstream pancreas continues to contribute to persistence of the fistula. This so-called 'disconnected tail syndrome' often results in pseudocyst recurrence after internal transmural endoscopic or surgical internal cystgastrostomy drainage
 (Fig. 15). A few authors have reported successful endoscopic drainage by bridging the disruption to reconnect the tail, but the long-term
outcome of these efforts remains unclear. More often these patients will experience a long illness with TPN and repeated interventions
until the disconnected tail eventually autolyses, atrophies due to stricturing, or is surgically resected .
A frequent vascular complication of acute pancreatitis is thrombosis of the splenic vein and, less frequently, of the portal
vein . The cause is an intense inflammatory response surrounding these venous structures, often with compression by the resulting
edematous reaction. Stasis and activation of clotting factors then produce acute thrombosis with resulting left-sided portal
hypertension. Because the obstruction to portal inflow to the liver is usually partial, esophageal varices usually do not
occur. Nonetheless, bleeding from gastric varices can be severe, especially when coagulopathy coexists (Fig. 16).
During the period of convalescence, where often surgical debridement or pseudocyst drainage must be undertaken, a secondary
venous thrombosis may be a major determinant in treatment selection. Furthermore, the failure to recognize this form of portal
hypertension prior to such interventions can prove disastrous. Significant gastric wall varices often contraindicate endoscopic
or even surgical pseudocyst gastrostomy. Helical dynamic contrast CT scanning should detect venous thrombosis and predict
left-sided portal hypertension accurately (Fig. 17). EUS has proven particularly valuable in assessing for gastric varices. One or both studies should be performed near the time
of any invasive intervention.
Thrombotic arterial complications secondary to acute pancreatitis are less common, but when they occur they can be severe.
Splenic artery thrombosis with resulting splenic infarction is generally survivable with splenectomy. However, superior mesenteric
artery thrombosis resulting in small and, at times, large bowel infarction is accompanied by a high mortality. The middle
colic artery is perhaps the most frequent artery to thrombose, often resulting in a more limited large bowel infarction which
may respond to resection and temporary surgical colostomy.
A more frequent arterial complication of pancreatitis is the formation of a pseudoaneurysm resulting in hemorrhage. Various
series report this serious complication in up to 10% of cases of severe acute pancreatitis and it can complicate chronic pancreatitis
as well [83,84].
If the pseudoaneurysm formed in an expanding pseudocyst wall, sudden hypotension with syncope followed by intense pain has
been termed 'pancreatic apoplexy. If the pseudocyst into which the pseudoaneurysm ruptures communicates with the pancreatic duct, frank
gastrointestinal bleeding can be the presenting symptom. Termed 'hemosuccus pancreaticus', such bleeding is amongst the rarest causes of gastrointestinal hemorrhage .
Finally, the presence of a pseudoaneurysm may be silent, only to acutely rupture during any invasive intervention where the
surrounding tamponade is decompressed. This can be especially devastating in endoscopic pseudocyst drainage since prompt control
of bleeding in general is not possible. Delayed rupture may also occur, resulting in exsanguinating gastrointestinal bleeding
if a pseudocyst enterostomy has been created or if a surgical or radiological external drain has been placed .
To avoid these severe bleeding complications, it is imperative that the presence of a pseudoaneurysm is carefully searched
for before intervention. All drainage procedures are strictly contraindicated until such a vascular lesion can be addressed
and resolved. Dynamic, arterial phase, thin-section helical CT scanning through the pancreatic region is likely the best diagnostic
study  (Fig. 18). Doppler ultrasound can be confirmatory but does not have the comprehensive screening power of CT. MRI with an arteriography
protocol has been little reported but would likely visualize these lesions .
Once detected, preoperative angiography with embolization of the pseudoaneurysm has become a popular approach  (Fig. 19). These procedures can be technically challenging if the pancreatico-duodenal artery is the affected vessel since embolization
may be necessary from both the celiac trunk and the superior mesenteric artery. Pseudoaneurysm of the celiac trunk can present
a nearly insurmountable problem since gallbladder, gastric, and even hepatic infarction may follow embolization. If portal
vein thrombosis is also present, the risk of hepatic infarction increases dramatically. Successful treatment of hemosuccus
pancreaticus radiological embolization at angiography is the preferred approach as well .
Once the pseudoaneurysm is thoroughly embolized and thrombosed, interventions can then be safely carried out . Elton et al. reported successful endoscopic pseudoaneurysm/pseudocyst drainage following radiological embolization in three such cases . In all three patients, thrombosis following embolization was documented by repeat dynamic contrast CT or Doppler ultrasound
prior to endoscopic intervention. Successful endoscopic drainage of the obstructing pseudocyst, stent management of strictures,
and clearance of obstructing clots within the pancreatic duct resulted in symptom resolution and avoided surgery in these
Finally, massive diffuse retroperitoneal bleeding may be seen in the setting of necrotizing pancreatitis, often with coincident
coagulopathy. This so-called 'hemorrhagic pancreatitis' is less often reported since better radiology more often identifies a focal arterial source. However, when true diffuse hemorrhagic
pancreatitis does occur, mortality rates exceed 35%, even in the modern era .
Complications of pancreatitis vary widely, are of complex etiology, and involve multiple organ systems. Avoiding these complications
remains the basic goal for all treating physicians, but once present their expert detection and appropriate management is
the key to optimizing patient outcome . Great progress has been made in treating these supremely ill patients but early and specific treatments to prevent complications
are still lacking. Prolonged hospitalizations, TPN, dialysis, ventilatory support, antibiotic therapy, and radiological, endoscopic,
and surgical treatments all have had a role in reducing mortality to less than 10% of afflicted patients. However, much needs
to be discovered .
Outstanding issues and future trends
The major need in pancreatology remains a full understanding of the pathophysiology of acute pancreatitis that results in
the dramatic cascade of events outlined in the chapter. Once the earliest events are identified, specific medical interventions,
possibly extremely specific pharmacological agents, can be developed that can prevent progression to shock, end organ compromise,
necrosis, and the other late complications outlined. More basic research is needed.
Lacking this knowledge, research will continue to look for methods of preventing the complications of pancreatitis once severe
disease has been established. A major need is an effective way to prevent progression to necrosis, beyond aggressive fluid
Trends in the future will continue to be innovations in minimally invasive therapies. Debridement of infected necrosis, intervention
prior to infection, and management of ductal disruption resulting in a disconnected tail are all areas of considerable confusion
and often subjects of interdisciplinary debate. Therapeutic, endoscopic, percutaneous laparoscopic debridement and transgastric
endoscopic therapy are the newest players on a seemingly crowded field.
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