The Natural History and Surgical Significance of Hyperlipemic Abdominal Crisis

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Although it is widely known that patients with severe hyper-lipemia may have pancreatitis, it is not generally appreciated that such patients may have recurrent abdominal pain of variable character and intensity not due to pancreatitis. Review of 35 patients followed in our clinic for 1–11 years showed that 54% had recurrent abdominal pain, while only 29% had pancreatitis. Although mild pain occurred frequently with plasma triglycerides in the 2000–5000 mg/dl range, triglycerides over 6000 mg/dl were often associated with severe pain and physical findings which necessitated hospitalization, often led to the misdiagnosis of pancreatitis and other intra-abdominal catastrophes and resulted in multiple unnecessary diagnostic studies and operations. When recognized, the pain subsided within 48 hours upon cessation of oral intake and treatment with intravenous electrolyte solutions. Furthermore, effective treatment of the hyperlipemia prevented both the attacks of severe pain and the pancreatitis which otherwise occurred (or recurred) in a significant fraction of the patients. These data confirm the existence of hyperlipemic abdominal crisis as a distinct entity and testify to the importance of recognizing this syndrome in order to avoid the occurrence of acute pancreatitis and the performance of unnecessary and potentially harmful surgery.

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