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by EBSCO Medical Review Board

Definition

Acute pancreatitis is sudden inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is an organ that sits behind the stomach. It makes fluids that help break down food in the small intestine.

The Pancreas
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Causes

Causes may be:

Sometimes the cause is not known.

Risk Factors

The risk of this problem is higher in people who have any of the causes listed above.

Other things that may raise the risk of this problem are:

Symptoms

The main problem is mild to severe pain in the center of the belly. It may also spread into the upper back. This pain may last several days.

A person with acute pancreatitis may also have:

  • Swollen belly
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You may be asked about your use of alcohol. A physical exam will be done.

Tests may also be done. They include:

  • Blood tests to look for signs of pancreatitis.
  • Images of the pancreas will be taken. This can be done with:
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Abdominal CT scan
  • Abdominal MRI scan
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography
  • Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography
  • Treatment

    Any underlying causes will need to be treated.

    Most people recover in a few days. The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms during this time. This may be done with:

    • Supportive care, such as drinking extra fluids or getting fluids through an IV
    • Dietary changes, such as a low fat diet or nutrition given through a tube that is passed through the nose and into the stomach
    • Medicines to ease pain

    People who are not helped by these methods may need surgery. The type of surgery done depends on the reason for the pancreatitis. A person may have:

    • Percutaneous catheter drainage to drain fluid from the pancreas
    • ERCP to remove gallstones
    • Cholecystectomy to remove the gallbladder if gallstones are the cause
    • Necrosectomy to remove dying or dead tissue from the pancreas

    Prevention

    To lower the risk of this health problem:

    • Manage chronic health problems, such as high triglycerides and obesity
    • Limit alcohol

    RESOURCES

    National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases  https://www.niddk.nih.gov 

    National Pancreas Foundation  https://pancreasfoundation.org 

    CANADIAN RESOURCES

    Canadian Association of Gastroenterology  https://www.cag-acg.org 

    Health Canada  https://www.canada.ca 

    References

    Acute pancreatitis in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/acute-pancreatitis-in-adults. Accessed April 28, 2022.

    Causes of acute pancreatitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/causes-of-acute-pancreatitis. Accessed April 28, 2022.

    Pancreatitis. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/pancreatitis. Accessed April 28, 2022.

    Pancreatitis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/pancreatitis/definition-facts. Accessed April 28, 2022.

    Prevention of acute pancreatitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/prevention/prevention-of-acute-pancreatitis. Accessed April 28, 2022.

    Revision Information