Pleural effusions associated with acute pancreatitis: Incidence and appearance based on computed tomography

M. Z. Simmons*, J. A. Miller, J. V. Zurlo, C. D. Levine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recognition of pleural effusions in acute pancreatitis is important since it carries prognostic implications. This study evaluates the incidence and characteristics of pleural effusions on computed tomography (CT) of patients with mainly an alcohol ingestion etiology of acute pancreatitis. A review of medical records and abdominal CT scans in 50 patients with clinical and laboratory evidence of acute pancreatitis was carried out. All patients were referred for abdominal CT scanning based on an initial clinical presentation consistent with acute pancreatitis and had confirmatory elevation of the corresponding serum enzyme levels. The presence, laterality, and size of any pleural effusions were recorded from the initial sections through the lung bases. Based on a review of medical records, 36 patients (72%) had an alcoholrelated etiology of acute pancreatitis. Overall, 10 patients (20%) with acute pancreatitis had pleural effusions on abdominal CT imaging. Five of the effusions were bilateral, three were unilateral right sided, and two were unilateral left sided. Nine of the effusions were small (<1 cm in maximal height) or medium (1-2 cm) in size. Small and medium-sized pleural effusions are not uncommon in acute pancreatitis. The higher incidence in this study compared to that in earlier reports likely represents the increased sensitivity of cross-sectional imaging for small amounts of pleural fluid. The absence of left-sided effusion predominance in our study group is contrary to much of the earlier literature and may reflect demographic factors, such as etiology and previous history of pancreatitis, although statistical variability must also be considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-289
Number of pages3
JournalEmergency Radiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Complications
  • Pancreatitis
  • Pleural effusions


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