Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is a large gland behind the stomach and close to the beginning of the small intestine.

Digestive fluids (enzymes) from the pancreas travel to the small intestine and activate to help digest food. If they activate before leaving the pancreas, it can become irritated and inflamed, a condition called pancreatitis. 

There are two types of pancreatitis: acute and chronic. Acute pancreatitis happens suddenly and lasts for days. Chronic pancreatitis happens over years and causes scarring and loss of normal pancreas function. It can lead to problems with digestion, or diabetes. Acute pancreatitis can turn into chronic pancreatitis. In severe cases, it can be life-threatening.


Symptoms of acute pancreatitis may include:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen that radiates to the back or gets worse after eating
  • Pain in the abdomen when touched
  • Fever
  • Rapid pulse
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Weight loss
Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis may include:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Indigestion
  • Oily, smelly stools
See your doctor for abdominal pain that doesn’t get better or that causes moderate to severe discomfort.


To diagnose pancreatitis, your doctor will ask you about any symptoms. Then, he or she will perform a physical exam and may order tests such as:

Services & Treatment

Treatment may begin in the hospital and then continue at home. Possible options include:

  • Pain medication and pain management
  • Antibiotics 
  • Dietary changes and enzyme supplements
  • IV (intravenous) fluids 
  • Fasting so the 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 to remove diseased parts of the pancreas

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