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Ann Surg. 1990 Jun;211(6):708-16; discussion 716-8.

Long peritoneal lavage decreases pancreatic sepsis in acute pancreatitis.

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Department of Surgery, New York University School of Medicine, NY 10016.


Late infection of devitalized pancreatic and peripancreatic tissue has become the major cause of morbidity in severe acute pancreatitis. Previous experience found that peritoneal lavage for periods of 48 to 96 hours may reduce early systemic complications but did not decrease late pancreatic sepsis. A fortunate observation led to the present study of the influence of a longer period of lavage on late sepsis. Twenty-nine patients receiving primary nonoperative treatment for severe acute pancreatitis (three or more positive prognostic signs) were randomly assigned to short peritoneal lavage (SPL) for 2 days (15 patients) or to long peritoneal lavage (LPL) for 7 days (14 patients). Positive prognostic signs averaged 5 in both groups but the frequency of five or more signs was higher in LPL (71%) than in SPL (47%). Eleven patients in each group had early computed tomographic (CT) scans. Peripancreatic fluid collections were shown more commonly in LPL (82%) than in SPL (54%) patients. Longer lavage dramatically reduced the frequency of both pancreatic sepsis (22% LPL versus 40% SPL) and death from sepsis (0% LPL versus 20% SPL). Among patients with fluid collections on early CT scan, LPL led to a more marked reduction in both pancreatic sepsis (33% LPL versus 83% SPL) and death from sepsis (0% LPL versus 33% SPL). The differences were even more striking among 17 patients with five or more positive prognostic signs. In this group the incidence of pancreatic sepsis was 30% LPL versus 57% SPL and of death from sepsis 0% (LPL) versus 43% (SPL) (p = 0.05). In these patients, overall mortality was also reduced (20% LPL versus 43% SPL). When 20 patients treated by LPL were compared with 91 other patients with three or more positive prognostic signs who were treated without lavage or by lavage for periods of 2 to 4 days, the frequency of death from pancreatic sepsis was reduced from 13% to 5%. In those with five or more signs, the incidence of sepsis was reduced from 40% to 27% (p = 0.03) and of death for sepsis from 30% to 7% (p = 0.08). These findings indicate that lavage of the peritoneal cavity for 7 days may significantly reduce both the frequency and mortality rate of pancreatic sepsis in severe acute pancreatitis.

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