Background: Severe acute pancreatitis is characterized by pancreatic necrosis, resulting in local and systemic inflammation. Pancreatitis affects both the systemic and pancreatic vasculature. This review focuses on the underlying processes involved in the changes of microvascular anatomy following acute pancreatitis. Methods: A Medline/PubMed search (January 1966 to December 2005) with manual cross-referencing was conducted. All relevant articles investigating the pancreatic microcirculatory anatomy and the effect of pancreatitis on the microcirculation were included. Results: The pancreas is susceptible to ischaemic insult, which can exacerbate acute pancreatitis. There is also increasing evidence of pancreatic and systemic microvascular disturbances in the pathogenesis of pancreatitis, including vasoconstriction, shunting, inadequate perfusion, and increased blood viscosity and coagulation. These processes may be caused or exacerbated by ischaemia-reperfusion injury and the development of oxygen-derived free radicals. Conclusion: Acute pancreatitis impairs the pancreatic and systemic microcirculation, which is a key pathological process in the development of severe necrotizing disease.