Question Of The Day #32

question of the day

Which of the following is the most appropriate next step in management for this patient’s condition?

This patient has intermittent epigastric abdominal pain with nausea and vomiting that radiates to the back. He has a history of alcohol abuse, but lacks tremors or tongue fasciculations to demonstrate signs of active alcohol withdrawal. Laboratory testing reveals pre-renal acute kidney injury (BUN/Creatinine ratio >20), elevated liver function tests with a hepatocellular pattern (AST>ALT in 2:1 ratio), and a markedly elevated lipase.  This information supports a diagnosis of acute pancreatitis. Administration of IV midazolam, a benzodiazepine, would be an appropriate next step if the patient had signs or symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal can begin as early as 6 hours after refraining from alcohol intake in a chronic alcohol user.  Information regarding alcohol intake is not provided in the question, but objective clinical signs indicating withdrawal are not present on exam. Ordering a CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis (Choice B) is not required in making the diagnosis of acute pancreatitis.  A CT scan can be helpful if you are considering an alternative diagnosis (i.e. AAA, abdominal abscess, etc) or if there is concern for sepsis or fulminant pancreatitis. 


Diagnosis of pancreatitis is made clinically based on the history and physical exam, risk factors for the disease, and laboratory testing.  Pancreatitis typically presents as upper abdominal pain that radiates to the flanks and back.  Nausea and vomiting are frequent accompanying symptoms. The disease can range from mild symptoms to severe symptoms with pancreatic necrosis, multi-organ failure, shock, and Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). Serum lipase testing is more specific than amylase for pancreatitis. Lipase is elevated in pancreatitis.  Risk factors for the disease include gallstones, alcohol use, abdominal trauma, recent ERCP, hypertriglyceridemia, pancreatic ischemia, scorpion envenomation, certain viral infections (Mumps, CMV), hypercalcemia, and certain medications (sulfonamides, azathioprine, valproic acid, etc).  The most common cause of first-time pancreatitis is gallstones. A gallbladder ultrasound should always be performed in patients with a gallbladder who present with pancreatitis. A surgical consultation (Choice C) for gallbladder removal would be warranted if this patient had gallstone pancreatitis, but the patient has a history of a cholecystectomy. The likely cause of this patient’s pancreatitis is his alcohol abuse which causes direct pancreatic injury and inflammation. Treatment of pancreatitis includes IV hydration (Choice D), analgesia, antiemetics, and monitoring for electrolyte abnormalities. Avoiding food or liquid intake (NPO) for “pancreatic rest” has been recommended historically for all cases of pancreatitis, however there is not robust evidence to support this practice.  Routine antibiotics are not recommended for acute pancreatitis, unless there are signs of sepsis.


Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #32," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, March 26, 2021,, date accessed: December 11, 2023

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