Pancreatitis

Enzymes (digestive fluids) go through your pancreas to your small intestine and activate to help digest food. If they activate before leaving the pancreas, your pancreas can get irritated and inflamed.

You might develop signs of pancreatitis:

  • Acute pancreatitis happens suddenly and lasts for days.
  • Chronic pancreatitis happens over years and can cause scarring and loss of pancreas function. You might have digestion problems or develop diabetes.

Pancreatitis is a serious condition. Acute disease can develop into chronic pancreatitis. Severe cases can become life threatening.

You Are at Risk for Pancreatitis if You:

  • Have gallstones
  • Are an alcoholic
  • Have a family history of pancreatitis
  • Have had abdominal surgery
  • Smoke cigarettes
  • Have cystic fibrosis
  • Take certain medications
  • Have high blood calcium levels (hypercalcemia)
  • Have high blood parathyroid hormone levels (hyperparathyroidism)
  • Have high blood triglyceride levels (hypertriglyceridemia)
  • Have an autoimmune condition
  • Have had an injury to the abdomen
  • Have an infection
  • Have pancreatic cancer
  • Have had ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) to treat gallstones

Pancreatitis is more common in men than women.

Symptoms

Acute pancreatitis

  • Pain in your upper abdomen
  • Pain in your abdomen that continues to your back
  • Pain in your abdomen that gets worse after eating
  • Fever
  • Rapid pulse
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pain in your abdomen when it is touched
  • Weight loss

Chronic pancreatitis

  • Pain in your upper abdomen
  • Weight loss without effort
  • Indigestion
  • Oily, smelly stools

See a doctor if you have pain in your abdomen that doesn’t get better or causes you moderate to severe discomfort.

Diagnosis

Your doctor may recommend the following tests to diagnose pancreatitis:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Stool tests
  • CT (computed tomography) scan
  • MRCP (magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography)
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS)

Treatment

You usually have to be in the hospital for a few days at first to treat pancreatitis. Your doctor can figure out what’s causing it, and you can continue treatment at home.

Treatment may include:

  • Pain medication and pain management
  • Antibiotics to treat infection
  • IV (intravenous) fluids to make sure you’re well hydrated
  • Fasting for a couple of days in the hospital so your pancreas can rest
  • Removal of blockages in the bile duct with ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography).
  • Surgery to remove the gallbladder (cholecystectomy)
  • Surgery to drain fluid from the pancreas or removed diseased parts of the pancreas
  • Pancreatic enzyme supplements (pills)
  • Dietary changes

If you are dependent on alcohol, your doctor may recommend treatment to help you stop drinking. Drinking to excess over many years can cause pancreatitis. Continuing to drink makes pancreatitis worse.

Untreated pancreatitis can cause:

  • Diabetes
  • Malnutrition
  • Diarrhea
  • Infection of your pancreas
  • Kidney failure
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Cysts (pseudocysts) in your pancreas that can bleed or become infected
  • Changes in your lungs that lead to breathing problems

How to Prevent Pancreatitis

  • Drinking alcohol to excess and smoking are risk factors for pancreatitis and can make the condition worse. If you drink or smoke, try to quit. Your doctor can recommend ways to help.
  • Eating healthy reduces the risk of pancreatitis and improves your condition if you have it. A healthy diet includes fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and minimal fats.

Find an Aurora Health Care GI Specialist