Objective: To analyze the impact of a conservative strategy of management in patients with necrotizing pancreatitis, reserving intervention for patients with documented infection or the late complications of organized necrosis.
Summary background data: The role of surgery in patients with sterile pancreatic necrosis remains controversial. Although a conservative approach is being increasingly used, few studies have evaluated this strategy when applied to the entire spectrum of patients with necrotizing pancreatitis.
Methods: The authors reviewed 1,110 consecutive patients with acute pancreatitis managed at Brigham and Women's Hospital between January 1, 1995, and January 1, 2000, focusing on those with pancreatic necrosis documented by contrast-enhanced computed tomography. Fine-needle aspiration, the presence of extraintestinal gas on computed tomography, or both were used to identify infection.
Results: There were 99 (9%) patients with necrotizing pancreatitis treated, with an overall death rate of 14%. In three patients with underlying medical problems, the decision was made initially not to intervene. Of the other 62 patients without documented infection, all but 3 were managed conservatively; this group's death rate was 11%. Of these seven deaths, all were related to multiorgan failure. Five patients in this group eventually required surgery for organized necrosis, with no deaths. Of the 34 patients with infected necrosis, 31 underwent surgery and 3 underwent percutaneous drainage. Only four (12%) of these patients died, all of multiorgan failure. Of the total 11 patients who died, few if any would have been candidates for earlier surgical intervention.
Conclusions: These results suggest that conservative strategies can be applied successfully to manage most patients with necrotizing pancreatitis, although some will eventually require surgery for symptomatic organized necrosis. Few if any patients seem likely to benefit from a more aggressive strategy.