Background: Propofol is a short-acting anesthetic used to induce sedation in various ambulatory and inpatient surgical procedures. It is a US Food and Drug Administration approved lipid-based intravenous hypnotic agent, which has been used clinically for the induction and maintenance of anesthesia for over 3 decades. In addition to general anesthesia, it is used to sedate patients undergoing mechanical ventilation or short procedures such as endoscopy, transesophageal echocardiogram, and abscess drainage. An infrequent but serious complication of propofol is acute pancreatitis (AP), with potentially significant morbidity and possible mortality. In this review, we will discuss the proposed mechanisms of AP secondary to propofol, a number of reported cases, studies conducted, and treatment strategies.
Areas of uncertainty: There are several case reports in the literature that have shown an association between propofol and pancreatitis. The exact mechanism behind propofol-induced pancreatitis is not fully understood, but proposed mechanisms include hypertriglyceridemia (HTG), hypersensitivity, or direct pancreatic toxicity of the drug. Although the association of propofol and pancreatitis has not been proven conclusively, clinicians should be aware of this possible rare complication to prevent the devastating consequences of AP.
Data sources: We gathered articles on previously documented case reports and up-to-date studies on propofol-induced pancreatitis by searching databases such as PubMed and Google Scholar.
Results: Based on previous studies and case reports, we suggest that propofol should be added to a list of drugs having a direct association with AP.
Conclusions: Although, the mechanism of propofol-induced pancreatitis is not fully understood, and the causal relationship of propofol-induced hypertriglyceridemia or idiosyncratic drug reaction has remained unproven. Clinicians should be aware of the association between propofol and pancreatitis, and any patient presenting with abdominal pain after propofol infusion should be evaluated for AP and treated promptly to avoid complications.