Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is a large gland behind the stomach, close to the first part of the small intestine, called the duodenum. The pancreas has two main functions—to make insulin and to make digestive juices, or enzymes, to help you digest food. These enzymes digest food in the intestine.
Acute pancreatitis occurs suddenly and is a short-term condition. Most people with acute pancreatitis get better, and it goes away in several days with treatment. Some people can have a more severe form of acute pancreatitis, which requires a lengthy hospital stay.
Chronic pancreatitis is a long-lasting condition. The pancreas does not heal or improve. Instead, it gets worse over time, which can lead to lasting damage to your pancreas.
Acute pancreatitis has becoming more common, for reasons that are not clear.
Certain groups of people are more likely to get acute or chronic pancreatitis than others:
You are more likely to get pancreatitis if you have one of the following health conditions:
You are also more likely to get pancreatitis if you
Both acute and chronic pancreatitis can lead to complications that include
Complications of chronic pancreatitis include
The main symptom of acute and chronic pancreatitis is
Other symptoms may include
People with acute pancreatitis usually look and feel seriously ill and need to see a doctor right away.
Most people with chronic pancreatitis
The pain may
People with chronic pancreatitis may not have symptoms until they have complications.
Other symptoms may include
Seek care right away for the following symptoms of severe pancreatitis:
These symptoms may be a sign of
Left untreated, these problems can be fatal.
The most common causes of both acute and chronic pancreatitis are
Other causes include
The most common causes of chronic pancreatitis are
Other causes include
To diagnose pancreatitis and find its causes, doctors use
A health care professional will ask
During a physical exam, the health care professional will
Health care professionals may use lab or imaging tests to diagnose pancreatitis and find its causes. Diagnosing chronic pancreatitis can be hard in the early stages. Your doctor will also test for other conditions that have similar symptoms, such as peptic ulcers or pancreatic cancer.
Lab tests to help diagnose pancreatitis include the following:
A health care professional may take a blood sample from you and send the sample to a lab to test for
Your doctor may test a stool sample to find out if a person has fat malabsorption.
Health care professionals also use imaging tests to diagnose pancreatitis. A technician performs most tests in an outpatient center, a hospital, or a doctor's office. You don't need anesthesia, a medicine to keep you calm, for most of these tests.
MRCP uses a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine, which creates pictures of your organs and soft tissues without x-rays. Your doctor or a specialist may use MRCP to look at your pancreas, gallbladder, and bile ducts for causes of pancreatitis.
Your doctor inserts an endoscope—a thin, flexible tube—down your throat, through your stomach, and into your small intestine. The doctor turns on an ultrasound attachment to create pictures of your pancreas and bile ducts. Your doctor may send you to a gastroenterologist to perform this test.
Your doctor may use this test to measure how your pancreas responds to secretin, a hormone made by the small intestine. This test is done only at some centers in the United States.
Treatment for acute or chronic pancreatitis may include
Your doctor may send you to a gastroenterologist or surgeon for one of the following treatments, depending on the type of pancreatitis that you have.
Your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the gallbladder, called cholecystectomy, if gallstones cause your pancreatitis. Having surgery within a few days after you are admitted to the hospital lowers the chance of complications. If you have severe pancreatitis, your doctor may advise delaying surgery to first treat complications.
Your doctor or specialist will drain fluid in your abdomen if you have an abscess or infected pseudocyst, or a large pseudocyst causing pain or bleeding. Your doctor may remove damaged tissue from your pancreas.
Doctors use ERCP to treat both acute and chronic pancreatitis. ERCP combines upper gastrointestinal endoscopy and x-rays to treat narrowing or blockage of a bile or pancreatic duct. Your gastroenterologist may use ERCP to remove gallstones blocking the bile or pancreatic ducts.
Your doctor may prescribe or provide the following:
Chronic pancreatitis may cause diabetes. If you get diabetes, your doctor and health care team will work with you to create an eating plan and a routine of medicine, blood glucose monitoring, and regular checkups.
Your doctor may recommend surgery to relieve pressure or blockage in your pancreatic duct, or to remove a damaged or infected part of your pancreas. Surgery is done in a hospital, where you may have to stay a few days.
In patients who do not get better with other treatments, surgeons may perform surgery to remove your whole pancreas, followed by islet auto-transplantation. Islets are groups of cells in your pancreas that make hormones, including insulin. After removing your pancreas, doctors will take islets from your pancreas and transplant them into your liver. The islets will begin to make hormones and release them into your bloodstream.
Your doctor may suggest a nerve block, which is a shot of numbing medicine through your skin and directly into nerves that carry the pain message from your pancreas. If you have stones blocking your pancreatic duct, your doctor may use a procedure to break up and remove the stones.
Health care professionals strongly advise people with pancreatitis to stop drinking alcohol, even if your pancreatitis is mild or in the early stages. Continuing to drink alcohol when you have acute pancreatitis can lead to
Health care professionals strongly advise people with pancreatitis to stop smoking, even if your pancreatitis is mild or in the early stages. Smoking with acute pancreatitis, especially if it's caused by alcohol use, greatly raises the chances that your pancreatitis will become chronic. Smoking with pancreatitis also may raise your risk of pancreatic cancer.
Talk with your health care professional if you need help to stop smoking .
You can't prevent pancreatitis, but you can take steps to help you stay healthy.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a healthy weight—or losing weight if needed—can help to
Smoking is a common risk factor for pancreatitis—and the chances of getting pancreatitis are even higher in people who smoke and drink alcohol. Talk with your health care professional if you need help to stop smoking.
During pancreatitis treatment, your doctor may tell you not to eat or drink for a while. Instead, your doctor may use a feeding tube to give you nutrition. Once you may start eating again, he or she will prescribe a healthy, low-fat eating plan that includes small, frequent meals.
Having an eating plan high in fat and calories can lead to high levels of fat in your blood, which raises your risk of pancreatitis. You can lower your chances of getting pancreatitis by sticking with a low-fat, healthy eating plan.