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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 16  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 209-213

Pancreatitis in systemic lupus erythematosus: Clinical characterization and outcome analysis in concurrent pancreatitis and lupus

Department of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology, St. John's Medical College, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Date of Submission14-Oct-2020
Date of Acceptance14-Nov-2020
Date of Web Publication25-Jun-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Vineeta Shobha
Department of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology, St. John's Medical College, Sarjapur Road, Bengaluru - 560 034, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/injr.injr_287_20

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Objective: Pancreatitis in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) continues is an often under-diagnosed entity with high morbidity and mortality. The objective of this case series is to study the demographics and outcomes of lupus pancreatitis and to compare with available medical literature.
Materials and Methods: Records of SLE patients admitted in our hospital between January 2012 and May 2018, were examined retrospectively. Clinical and laboratory parameters of the patients who were diagnosed with SLE and pancreatitis were obtained and analyzed.
Results: The prevalence of pancreatitis in our cohort was 1.33% with 77% female preponderance. All the patients presented within 3 years of lupus onset. Pancreatitis was often associated with other disease manifestations of SLE and the mean Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Disease Activity Index 2K score at presentation was 17.4 ± 7.82. None of the patients were positive for APLA antibodies. All our patients were treated with high-dose steroids and other immunosuppression as indicated for concomitant disease activity. Complications were seen in only one patient who eventually succumbed to the disease.
Conclusions: Pancreatitis in SLE is associated with disease activity. High index of suspicion, early diagnosis, and institution of steroids and immunosuppressive therapy lead to a good outcome.

Keywords: Disease activity, pancreatitis, systemic lupus erythematosus

How to cite this article:
Charles S, Pinto B, Shobha V. Pancreatitis in systemic lupus erythematosus: Clinical characterization and outcome analysis in concurrent pancreatitis and lupus. Indian J Rheumatol 2021;16:209-13

How to cite this URL:
Charles S, Pinto B, Shobha V. Pancreatitis in systemic lupus erythematosus: Clinical characterization and outcome analysis in concurrent pancreatitis and lupus. Indian J Rheumatol [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Jul 25];16:209-13. Available from:

  Introduction Top

Pancreatitis associated with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is rare, the reported frequency being 0.2%–8.2%, with an annual incidence at 0.4–1.1/1000 patients.[1],[2],[3] More than half of SLE-related acute pancreatitis (AP) develop complications if not treated promptly.[2] Nesher et al. reviewed 77 cases and reported a mortality of 3% in patients without complications as compared to 45% in patients with complications.[2] About 22% of patients may experience recurrent acute episodes, whereas 5%–14% develop chronic pancreatitis.[2],[3] The incidence of SLE-related pancreatitis may be underestimated because the isolated elevation of pancreatic enzymes without symptoms, is usually not diagnosed or reported. It is estimated that 30.5% of SLE patients have asymptomatic hyperamylasemia.[4] The significance of asymptomatic hyperamylasemia in lupus is unclear. The pathogenic mechanism of SLE-related pancreatitis is not well explained, although vascular damage has often been postulated as an important factor. Necrotizing vasculitis, occlusion of arteries, and arterioles by thrombi resulting from severe hypertension or antiphospholipid syndrome, intimal thickening and proliferation, and immune complex deposition with complement activation in the wall of pancreatic arteries have been postulated.[5] In this case series, we reviewed the clinical manifestations and treatment of nine patients of SLE-associated pancreatitis and their outcome.

  Materials and Methods Top

Retrospective record review was performed for SLE patients who were admitted with pancreatitis to St. John's Medical College and Hospital, during the period of 2012–2018. SLE was diagnosed as per the systemic lupus international collaborating clinics 2012 revised criteria.[6] A diagnosis of AP was established in accordance with the American gastroenterological association (AGA) 2018 guidelines;[7] by the presence of typical clinical symptoms and >3-fold elevation of serum amylase or lipase or evidence of computer tomography (CT) scan or ultrasonography imaging findings. The severity of pancreatitis was assessed using the Bedside Index of severity in Acute Pancreatitis (BISAP)[8] score and Revised Atlanta 2012[9] score. CT severity index (CTSI) score[10] was documented in patients for whom CT scan of the abdomen was done. Other causes of AP such as mechanical obstruction (choledocholithiasis), toxic-metabolic etiologies (alcohol intake, drugs, hypercalcemia, or hypertriglyceridemia), infection, or trauma were excluded in each case.

Demographic information including the age at onset of SLE, gender, duration between onset of SLE and AP, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Disease Activity Index (SLEDAI)-2K score at diagnosis of pancreatitis, presence or absence of confounding factors, clinical symptoms, laboratory findings, medications (especially corticosteroid, and immunosuppressive agents), and outcome were documented. The clinical correlates have been documented as frequencies and percentages and as a geographic mean wherever feasible.

  Results Top

Nine patients of SLE with pancreatitis were identified from our database of 673 case records of SLE over the study period, accounting for an approximate prevalence of 1.33%. The average age of presentation was 28.78 years (range 19–40), 77% (7/9) being women. Baseline characteristics and lupus manifestations are summarized in [Table 1].
Table 1: Demographics and Lupus manifestations

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All the episodes of pancreatitis were documented within the first 3 years of diagnosis of SLE, 7/10 at the time of initial diagnosis. The most common presenting symptom was atypical epigastric or nonspecific abdominal pain (100%). Only one patient reported nausea and vomiting. Diarrhea was documented in two and paralytic ileus in one. The mean SLEDAI 2K score was 17.4 ± 7.82 at the time of onset of pancreatitis.

Two patients were on treatment for SLE, before the onset of pancreatitis, which included methotrexate (current use) in one and azathioprine (past use) in another. None had received azathioprine or cyclosporine within the preceding 3 months. Six patients had received steroids during the concurrent episode of pancreatic illness. These are summarized in [Table 2].
Table 2: Pancreatitis severity assessment and outcome

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During three episodes of pancreatitis, abdominal pain was one of the presenting complaints. The others developed 3–4 days after initiation of high-dose steroid for the other concurrent manifestations of SLE. All our patients received high-dose steroid therapy. However, the short duration of steroid therapy features suggestive of ongoing activity, and exclusion of other etiologies supported the diagnosis of pancreatitis secondary to SLE.

Nine out of the ten pancreatitis episodes were associated with other features of SLE flare, as evidenced by the SLEDAI 2K score. Concomitant lupus features seen, are documented in [Table 1].

The severity of pancreatitis was based on BISAP and modified Atlanta 2012 score. Three patients (cases one, eight, and nine) had a BISAP score >2. Three patients (cases one, four, and six) scored moderate severity on the Revised Atlanta score due to the presence of peripancreatic fluid collection, another (case eight) was scored very severe due to the presence of local complication (pancreatic necrosis) along with persistent (>48 h) organ failure. CT scan of the abdomen could be obtained during eight episodes only. Based on the CTSI score, two patients were graded as moderate severity (score of 4–6) and one patient had severe pancreatitis with a score of 8 [Figure 1]. The one patient who had severe pancreatitis developed refractory hypocalcemia, diarrhea, hemorrhagic pancreatitis, acute respiratory distress syndrome, sepsis (ventilator-associated pneumonia), and succumbed to her illness.
Figure 1: Contrastenhanced computed tomography of the abdomen showing hypodense, nonenhancing body and tail of the pancreas

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  Discussion and Literature Review Top

Pancreatitis in SLE is an extremely rare occurrence with the reported prevalence among the cohort studies, ranging from 0.85% to 3.5%.[11],[12] Female preponderance of SLE pancreatitis parallels to lupus sex preponderance. Majority of the cases manifest pancreatitis within the first few years of diagnosis with SLE. In the retrospective cohort study by Wang et al.[13] all 52 cases of SLE pancreatitis had presented within 1 year of diagnosis with SLE and all of them had concurrent manifestations of active disease. The most common clinical manifestation of pancreatitis reported is abdominal pain (88%), followed by nausea or vomiting (46%). Other less frequent manifestations include diarrhea (9%), loss of appetite and weight loss, and panniculitis (only few case reports).[2] Our patients presented with abdominal pain and either nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea and had a similar frequency of clinical features at presentation. High index of suspicion, early testing of pancreatic enzymes despite atypical clinical manifestations permitted quick diagnosis and institution of appropriate therapy.

There is a definite association between pancreatitis and lupus activity as evidenced by the mean SLEDAI scores documented in all the cohort studies and most of the case reports. Multiorgan involvement is remarkable during the eventual course of illness. Increased frequency of neurological and psychiatry manifestations was documented by Goel et al.[14] and Makol and Petri[3] respectively. This was not replicated in our series of patients. Otherwise, the other organ involvement in our case series (renal involvement 55.56%, serositis 55.56%, arthritis–77.78%, and neuropsychiatric 22.2%), seems to be comparable to that noted in literature.

Nesher et al. reported ANA positivity in 98% and ds DNA in 73%, in their review.[2] Only 33.34% of our patients were positive for dsDNA.[15] All our patients had low complement levels, which helped in diagnosing pancreatitis secondary to SLE. Some of the earlier cohort studies reported low complements too, the range being 55%–100%.[3],[11],[14],[15] Few retrospective series have found association with Antiphospholipid antibodies (APLA). In another study done from South India by Goel et al., 40% association with APLA antibodies was reported.[3],[11],[14] However, none of our patients was APLA positive.

The rate of complications in “untreated” pancreatitis is as high as 57%, with mortality of up to 45%, which is higher than those observed in non-SLE populations.[1],[12],[14] Local complications include necrotizing pancreatitis, hemorrhagic pancreatitis, and pseudocysts (12%).[1],[2],[12] Around 14%–22% showed a chronic course (chronic pancreatitis or recurrences).[1],[2] Makol and Petri have reported recurrence in 43% of patients with SLE pancreatitis (27/63). Other complications as reported by Nesher et al.,[2] include respiratory failure (22%), recurrent pancreatitis (22%), ascites (19%), pleural effusion (18%), acute renal failure (14%), and circulatory shock (12%). In our series, we noted a very low complication rate. The outcome was good in the majority of our patients, probably because of the milder severity of pancreatitis as well as early diagnosis and institution of high dose steroid in addition to conventional supportive treatment. In our cohort, the choice of additional immunosuppressant primarily depended on nonpancreatitis manifestations of lupus and patient preferences.

Medical literature review reveals that nearly 83% of lupus pancreatitis were treated with high dose steroid. The morbidity and mortality seem to be high in cases where the steroid dose was rapidly decreased. Patients on glucocorticoids before the onset of pancreatitis also had a better prognosis in comparison to those who were not.[1],[2],[12] In our cohort also, pancreatitis responded well to high dose steroids with a resolution of symptoms as early as 1 day. Evidence does not support the earlier claims that azathioprine and steroid may predispose to or exacerbate pancreatitis in lupus. In a retrospective study by Yang et al.,[15] where 40% (11/27) did not receive increased dosage of the steroid, the mortality was 37.04%.

Intravenous immunoglobulins (IVIG) and plasmapheresis were used in some cases associated with severe pancreatitis.[16] Yu et al.,[16] in their study, compared the use of plasmapheresis along with steroids versus steroids alone. They concluded that the remission rate was higher (70% vs. 25%; P = 0.024), whereas the total dose of steroid (31 mg/day vs. 47.9 mg/day; P = 0.002) and the need for concomitant antibiotic use (30% vs. 56.3%) were less in the group which received plasmapheresis additionally. This needs to be confirmed in larger studies with a bigger sample size. None of our patients had received IVIG or plasmapheresis.

  Conclusions Top

Pancreatitis may present as the initial manifestation in a previously undiagnosed case of lupus. It is associated with high disease activity in most patients. Our series of patients predominantly had mild-to-moderate pancreatitis with good outcome, largely attributable to early diagnosis and prompt treatment. There are no guidelines so far on the type, dosage, and duration of steroid to be used in SLE pancreatitis; this needs further study.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Breuer GS, Baer A, Dahan D, Nesher G. Lupus-associated pancreatitis. Autoimmun Rev 2006;5:314-8.  Back to cited text no. 1
Nesher G, Breuer GS, Temprano K, Moore TL, Dahan D, Baer A, et al. Lupus-associated pancreatitis. Semin Arthritis Rheum 2006;35:260-7.  Back to cited text no. 2
Makol A, Petri M. Pancreatitis in systemic lupus erythematosus: Frequency and associated factors – A review of the Hopkins lupus cohort. J Rheumatol 2010;37:341-5.  Back to cited text no. 3
Wang F, Wang NS, Zhao BH, Tang LQ. Acute pancreatitis as an initial symptom of systemic lupus erythematosus: A case report and review of the literature. World J Gastroenterol 2005;11:4766-8.  Back to cited text no. 4
Lariño Noia J, Macías García F, Seijo Ríos S, Iglesias García J, Domínguez Muñoz JE. Pancreatitis and systemic lupus erythematosus. Rev Esp Enferm Dig 2009;101:571-9. English, Spanish. doi: 10.4321/s1130-01082009000800009. PMID: 19785498.  Back to cited text no. 5
Petri M, Orbai AM, Alarcón GS, Gordon C, Merrill JT, Fortin PR, et al. Derivation and validation of the systemic lupus international collaborating clinics classification criteria for systemic lupus erythematosus. Arthritis Rheum 2012;64:2677-86.  Back to cited text no. 6
Crockett SD, Wani S, Gardner TB, Falck-Ytter Y, Barkun AN, American Gastroenterological Association Institute Clinical Guidelines Committee. American Gastroenterological Association Institute Guideline on initial management of acute pancreatitis. Gastroenterology 2018;154:1096-101.  Back to cited text no. 7
Wu BU, Johannes RS, Sun X, Tabak Y, Conwell DL, Banks PA. The early prediction of mortality in acute pancreatitis: A large population-based study. Gut 2008;57:1698-703.  Back to cited text no. 8
Banks PA, Bollen TL, Dervenis C, Gooszen HG, Johnson CD, Sarr MG, et al. Classification of acute pancreatitis--2012: Revision of the Atlanta classification and definitions by international consensus. Gut 2013;62:102-11.  Back to cited text no. 9
Raghuwanshi S, Gupta R, Vyas MM, Sharma R. CT evaluation of acute pancreatitis and its prognostic correlation with CT severity index. J Clin Diagn Res 2016;10:TC06-11.  Back to cited text no. 10
Pascual-Ramos V, Duarte-Rojo A, Villa AR, Hernández-Cruz B, Alarcón-Segovia D, Alcocer-Varela J, et al. Systemic lupus erythematosus as a cause and prognostic factor of acute pancreatitis. J Rheumatol 2004;31:707-12.  Back to cited text no. 11
Derk CT, DeHoratius RJ. Systemic lupus erythematosus and acute pancreatitis: A case series. Clin Rheumatol 2004;23:147-51.  Back to cited text no. 12
Wang Q, Shen M, Leng X, Zeng X, Zhang F, Qian J. Prevalence, severity, and clinical features of acute and chronic pancreatitis in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus. Rheumatol Int 2016;36:1413-9.  Back to cited text no. 13
Goel R, Danda D, Mathew J, Chacko A. Pancreatitis in systemic lupus erythematosus-Case series from a tertiary care center in South India. Open Rheumatol J 2012;6:21-3.  Back to cited text no. 14
Yang Y, Ye Y, Liang L, Wu T, Zhan Z, Yang X, et al. Systemic-lupuserythematosus-related acute pancreatitis: A cohort from South China. Clin Dev Immunol 2012;2012:Article ID 568564.  Back to cited text no. 15
Yu YK, Yu F, Ye C, Dai YJ, Huang XW, Hu SX. Retrospective analysis of plasma exchange combined with glucocorticosteroids for the treatment of systemic lupus erythematosus-related acute pancreatitis in central China. J Huazhong Univ Sci Technolog Med Sci 2016;36:501-508. doi: 10.1007/s11596-016-1615-6. Epub 2016 Jul 28. PMID: 27465323.  Back to cited text no. 16


  [Figure 1]

  [Table 1], [Table 2]


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