How Good Are Our Tests for Acute Pancreatitis?

A recent cross-sectional pediatric study (SH Orkin et al. J Pediatr 2019; 213: 143-8),  with a prospective clinical database, provides data on children presenting with acute pancreatitis, n=112 (2013-16).

Acute pancreatitis (AP): requires at least 2 of 3 criteria:

  1. Abdominal pain consistent with AP
  2. Serum amylase and/or lipase activity at least 3 times ULN
  3. Imaging findings compatible with AP

Key points:

  • Among AP patients who had a lipase level, the sensitivity was 95% whereas the sensitivity for amylase was 39%.
  • Among AP patients who had an ultrasound, the sensitivity was 52%.  In those with either CT or MRI, the sensitivity was 78%.
  • In this cohort, 5.4% did not meet diagnostic criteria based on biochemical elevation (amylase or lipase) and instead relied on imaging along with signs/symptoms.

The authors note that lipase has a delayed peak and longer duration of elevation with AP.   Amylase normalizes more rapidly.

My take: This study reinforces the view that an elevated lipase is more sensitive than amylase and that imaging (especially ultrasound) is frequently normal in AP.

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