The utility of early cross-sectional imaging to evaluate suspected acute mild pancreatitis

Authors Paul T. Reynolds, Evan K. Brady, Saurabh Chawla.


Background There are roughly 300,000 hospitalizations for acute pancreatitis annually in the United States. Many of the affected patients at our institution undergo computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) unnecessarily early during their admissions. We hypothesize that cross-sectional imaging within 48 h of admission in patients meeting the criteria for acute, mild pancreatitis is over-utilized and does not change management.

Methods We performed a retrospective analysis of patients with a discharge diagnosis of acute pancreatitis from our tertiary care institution from January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2015. Inclusion criteria were a lipase more than three times the upper limit of normal and clinical suspicion of pancreatitis. Exclusion criteria were an etiology of pancreatitis following endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, recurrent or chronic pancreatitis, severe pancreatitis, and ultrasound findings being the reason for imaging.

Results Of the 166 patients who met the criteria for analysis, 105 (63.3%) underwent crosssectional imaging within 48 h of presentation (CT: 104, MRI: 1). Of the examined CTs, 27 (26.0%) showed no abnormality and 55 (52.9%) revealed uncomplicated pancreatitis. The remaining 22 (21.2%) demonstrated at least one of the following: local complications, biliary ductal dilatation or other findings. On thorough chart review, only two patients received a beneficial change in management as a result of the early imaging.

Conclusions This analysis supports current guidelines that early cross-sectional abdominal imaging (CT or MRI) in patients with suspected acute mild pancreatitis does not alter medical management. Early imaging may lead to unnecessary resource use and patient irradiation.

Keywords Pancreatitis, cross-sectional studies, quality improvement

Ann Gastroenterol 2018; 31 (5): 628-632

Original Articles