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Lifestyle changes have led to an increasing incidence of acute pancreatitis (AP) in China. The aims of this study were to evaluate the association between lifestyle as well as medical history and AP in the elderly population and to provide evidence towards the prevention against AP.A population-based cross-sectional study was conducted in Daqing, Heilongjiang Province, China. A total of 23 294 residents aged ≥55 years were enrolled in the study. A questionnaire survey was conducted to collect data on participants' characteristics, lifestyle and medical history via a face-to-face interview, and compared these data with the medical chart.In total, 45 participants had been diagnosed with AP, that is, a prevalence of 0.19%. No significant differences were observed with respect to their age, gender, marital status or body mass index (BMI) in participants with and without AP. However, those were better educated were more likely to develop AP (P = 0.005). The univariate analysis showed that a high meat intake, smoking, alcohol consumption and a medical history of gallstones were associated with a significant increase in the risk of developing AP (P < 0.05). Furthermore, smoking or alcohol consumption was dose-dependently associated with the risk of AP, particularly in those who smoked at least 15 pack-years or consumed ≥56.2 drinks per year. Multivariable logistics analysis suggested that the level of education, smoking and medical history of gallstone are independent risk factors for AP.Our study indicated that a higher education level, smoking, alcohol consumption and history of gallstones may be potential risk factors for AP in the elderly in northeast China.