Of patients with acute pancreatitis (AP), there remains a group who suffer life threatening complications, despite current modes of therapy. To identify factors which distinguish this group from the entire patient population, a retrospective analysis of 519 cases of AP occurring over a 5 yr period was undertaken. Thirty one per cent of these patients had a history of alcoholism and 47% had a history of biliary disease. The overall mortality was 12.9%. Of symptoms and signs recorded at the time of admission, hypotension, tachycardia, fever, abdominal mass, and abnormal examination of the lung fields correlated positively with increased mortality. Seven features of the initial laboratory examination correlated with increased mortality. Shock, massive colloid requirement, hypocalcemia, renal failure, and respiratory failure requiring endotracheal intubation were complications associated with the poorest prognosis. Among patients in this series with three or more of these clinical characteristics, maximal nonoperative treatment yielded a survival rate of 29%, compared to the 64% survival rate for a group of patients treated operatively with cholecystostomy, gastrostomy, feeding jejunostomy, and sump drainage of the lesser sac and retroperitoneum.
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