Objective: To determine benefits of conservative versus surgical treatment in patients with necrotizing pancreatitis.
Summary background data: Infection of pancreatic necrosis is the most important risk factor contributing to death in severe acute pancreatitis, and it is generally accepted that infected pancreatic necrosis should be managed surgically. In contrast, the management of sterile pancreatic necrosis accompanied by organ failure is controversial. Recent clinical experience has provided evidence that conservative management of sterile pancreatic necrosis including early antibiotic administration seems promising.
Methods: A prospective single-center trial evaluated the role of nonsurgical management including early antibiotic treatment in patients with necrotizing pancreatitis. Pancreatic infection, if confirmed by fine-needle aspiration, was considered an indication for surgery, whereas patients without signs of pancreatic infection were treated without surgery.
Results: Between January 1994 and June 1999, 204 consecutive patients with acute pancreatitis were recruited. Eighty-six (42%) had necrotizing disease, of whom 57 (66%) had sterile and 29 (34%) infected necrosis. Patients with infected necrosis had more organ failures and a greater extent of necrosis compared with those with sterile necrosis. When early antibiotic treatment was used in all patients with necrotizing pancreatitis (imipenem/cilastatin), the characteristics of pancreatic infection changed to predominantly gram-positive and fungal infections. Fine-needle aspiration showed a sensitivity of 96% for detecting pancreatic infection. The death rate was 1.8% (1/56) in patients with sterile necrosis managed without surgery versus 24% (7/29) in patients with infected necrosis (P <.01). Two patients whose infected necrosis could not be diagnosed in a timely fashion died while receiving nonsurgical treatment. Thus, an intent-to-treat analysis (nonsurgical vs. surgical treatment) revealed a death rate of 5% (3/58) with conservative management versus 21% (6/28) with surgery.
Conclusions: These results support nonsurgical management, including early antibiotic treatment, in patients with sterile pancreatic necrosis. Patients with infected necrosis still represent a high-risk group in severe acute pancreatitis, and for them surgical treatment seems preferable.