Prophylactic antibiotics in acute pancreatitis: endless debate

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The development of pancreatic infection is associated with the development of a deteriorating disease with subsequent high morbidity and mortality. There is agreement that in mild pancreatitis there is no need to use antibiotics; in severe pancreatitis it would appear to be a logical choice to use antibiotics to prevent secondary pancreatic infection and decrease associated mortality.


A non-systematic review of current evidence, meta-analyses and randomized controlled trials was conducted to assess the role of prophylactic antibiotics in acute pancreatitis and whether it might improve morbidity and mortality in pancreatitis.


Mixed evidence was found to support and refute the role of prophylactic antibiotics in acute pancreatitis. Most studies have failed to demonstrate much benefit from its routine use. Data from our unit suggested little benefit of their routine use, and showed that the mortality of those treated with antibiotics was significantly higher compared with those not treated with antibiotics (9% vs 0%, respectively, P = 0.043). In addition, the antibiotic group had significantly higher morbidity (36% vs 5%, respectively, P = 0.002).


Antibiotics should be used in patients who develop sepsis, infected necrosis-related systemic inflammatory response syndrome, multiple organ dysfunction syndrome or pancreatic and extra-pancreatic infection. Despite the many other factors that should be considered, prompt antibiotic therapy is recommended once inflammatory markers are raised, to prevent secondary pancreatic infection. Unfortunately, there remain many unanswered questions regarding the indications for antibiotic administration and the patients who benefit from antibiotic treatment in acute pancreatitis.

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