The indications for early endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) in gallstone pancreatitis are unclear, and the examination is often requested or performed without substantial supporting evidence. Several trials have been performed to determine the benefit of early ERCP in pancreatitis, yet the results of these studies are inconsistent. To more closely analyze these studies, we performed an evidence-based review of the outcomes of early ERCP in gallstone pancreatitis. To obtain the best available evidence, a PubMed search using the MeSH terms "gallstones" and "pancreatitis" was performed and further refined to identify appropriate studies. We included five randomized trials, a meta-analysis, and a Cochrane Database Systematic Review in our detailed examination of the pertinent literature. Collectively, these studies suggest that early ERCP does not alter mortality in gallstone pancreatitis. In addition, few patients with mild pancreatitis benefit from the procedure, whereas some studies indicate that patients with severe pancreatitis or documented biliary obstruction may experience fewer complications if ERCP is performed. The data in the studies are confounding because of heterogeneity of the patient population and the inability to confirm gallstones in up to one third of patients. In conclusion, ERCP is not indicated for patients with mild pancreatitis. In select patients with severe disease or biliary obstruction, ERCP may be indicated. A multicenter trial designed to study the effect of early ERCP in severe pancreatitis only may provide additional useful information in patients with documented gallstones.
- Gallstone pancreatitis
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