Pancreatitis is a disease in which the pancreas becomes inflamed. The pancreas is a long, flat, pear-shaped organ located behind the stomach. It makes digestive enzymes and hormones, including insulin. In pancreatitis, the digestive enzymes attack the tissue that produces them.
Acute pancreatitis—occurs suddenly, with severe upper abdominal pain (This can be a serious, life-threatening illness if not treated.)Chronic pancreatitis—a progressive disorder that can destroy the pancreas
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A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Risk factors for pancreatitis include: Alcohol abuseFamily history of pancreatitisPersonal history of previous acute pancreatitis
(excessive levels of fat in the blood)
(increased calcium in the blood)
Viral infections, such as
Severe pain in the center of the upper abdomen that:
Sometimes spreads into the upper backIs often made worse by eating, walking, or lying down on your backIs less severe in chronic pancreatitis, with a gradual onset that may be tolerable for weeksNausea and vomitingDiarrheaFeverJaundice
(yellowing of the skin)
Shock—a severe change in the body's vital tasks (such as, rapid but weak pulse, rapid and shallow respiration, and low blood pressure) (in severe, acute cases)
Unexplained weight loss
Increased thirstIncreased urinationFatigue
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. Your doctor will ask how much alcohol you drink and what medicines you take. A physical exam will be done.
Other tests may include:
Blood tests—to measure levels of certain digestive enzymes and check for obstructions and complications of pancreatitis (such as, diabetes,
kidney failure, infection)
abdominal CT scan—to look for
and determine the level of pancreatic inflammation
Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)—a radiology test (MRI) that looks at the pancreas, pancreatic duct, and nearby bile ducts
ERCP—to examine the damage from pancreatitis and diagnose problems related to the pancreatic and biliary ducts
Treatment for acute pancreatitis depends on the severity of the attack. Hospitalization may be necessary. The main goal is to rest the pancreas. In mild cases, this means you may not have food for 3-4 days. In severe cases, you may not be able to have food for 3-6 weeks. You will likely need strong pain medicine during this time.
Treatment may also include: IV fluidsIV nutrients if you are unable to eat for an extended period of timeAntibiotics if you have an infectionSurgery to drain excess fluid from the abdomen
The goals of treatment for chronic pancreatitis are to relieve pain and manage nutritional and metabolic problems. Specific steps include: Strict avoidance of alcoholEating less fatTaking pills containing pancreatic enzymes to help with digestionTaking insulin to control blood sugar (if diabetes develops)Eating smaller meals more frequentlyTaking pain medicine if the pain becomes severe. You may want to see your doctor.
Surgery and/or ERCP may be needed to: Open a blocked pancreatic or biliary ductRemove part (or rarely all) of the pancreasDrain pancreatic cysts
If you are diagnosed with pancreatitis, follow your doctor's
The best way to avoid pancreatitis is to limit your intake of alcohol to two drinks or less per day for men and one drink or less per day for women. If you have hyperlipidemia, restrict your intake of fat and follow your doctor’s treatment plan to lower your lipids. Get vaccinated against mumps.
Braganza JM, Lee SH, et al. Chronic pancreatitis.
Last reviewed October 2012 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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