| Risk Factors
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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Causes of pancreatitis include:
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Risk factors for pancreatitis include:
- Alcohol abuse
- Family history of pancreatitis
- Personal history of previous acute pancreatitis
- Pancreatic cancer
(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 back
- Is often made worse by eating, walking, or lying down on your back
- Is less severe in chronic pancreatitis, with a gradual onset that may be tolerable for weeks
- Nausea and vomiting
(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 thirst
- Increased urination
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 ultrasound
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 fluids
- IV nutrients if you are unable to eat for an extended period of time
- Antibiotics if you have an infection
- Surgery 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 alcohol
- Eating less fat
- Taking pills containing pancreatic enzymes to help with digestion
- Taking insulin to control blood sugar (if diabetes develops)
- Eating smaller meals more frequently
- Taking 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 duct
- Remove part (or rarely all) of the pancreas
- Drain 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.
Acute pancreatitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated September 26, 2012. Accessed October 16, 2012.
Braganza JM, Lee SH, et al. Chronic pancreatitis.
Chronic pancreatitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated September 5, 2012. Accessed October 16, 2012.
Pancreatitis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at:
http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/pancreatitis/. Updated August 16, 2012. Accessed October 16, 2012.
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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