Obesity and Pancreatitis

Biswajit Khatua; Bara El-Kurdi; Vijay P. Singh


Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2017;33(5):374-382. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Purpose of review: The obesity pandemic poses a unique set of problems for acute pancreatitis – both by increasing acute pancreatitis incidence, and worsening acute pancreatitis severity. This review explores these associations, underlying mechanisms, and potential therapies.

Recent findings: We review how the obesity associated increase in gallstones, surgical, and endoscopic interventions for obesity management, diabetes, and related medications such as incretin-based therapies and hypertriglyceridemia may increase the incidence of acute pancreatitis. The mechanism of how obesity may increase acute pancreatitis severity are discussed with a focus on cytokines, adipokines, damage-associated molecular patterns and unsaturated fatty acid-mediated lipotoxicity. The role of obesity in exacerbating pancreatic necrosis is discussed; focusing on obesity-associated pancreatic steatosis. We also discuss how peripancreatic fat necrosis worsens organ failure independent of pancreatic necrosis. Last, we discuss emerging therapies including choice of intravenous fluids and the use of lipase inhibitors which have shown promise during severe acute pancreatitis.

Summary: We discuss how obesity may contribute to increasing acute pancreatitis incidence, the role of lipolytic unsaturated fatty acid release in worsening acute pancreatitis, and potential approaches, including appropriate fluid management and lipase inhibition in improving acute pancreatitis outcomes.


Obesity is a growing pandemic[1] with increasing healthcare costs, and acute pancreatitis is one of the most common gastroenterological causes for hospitalization in the United States affecting 275 000 patients annually.[2] Obesity has likely contributed to increasing the incidence[2,3] and severity[4–11] of acute pancreatitis. Here we discuss the underlying mechanisms, and emerging acute pancreatitis management options based on clinically relevant studies.