Acute pancreatitis continues to be a diagnostic and therapeutic challenge for physicians and surgeons. It ranks third in the list of hospital discharges for gastro intestinal diseases. In most patients the cause is either gallstones or alcoholism. The overall mortality is less than 5%, but severe acute pancreatitis leads to prolonged hospitalization and much higher mortality. There are important differences in disease susceptibility and case fatality rates: the incidence is higher in blacks than in whites, and mortality is higher in older patients than in younger patients. Reports from various countries reveal that the frequency of acute pancreatitis is increasing, perhaps in relation to rising obesity rates, which would increase the likelihood of gallstone pancreatitis. Conversely, mortality rates for acute pancreatitis are declining in many, but not all, reports.
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