Diseases & Conditions



What is Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is caused when the pancreas get inflamed. When the pancreas is inflamed, the enzymes produced inside it attack and damage the tissues that produce them.

Causes of Pancreatitis

Acute and chronic pancreatitis has different causes. The most common causes for acute pancreatitis include:

  • Gallstones
  • Abdominal trauma
  • Infections
  • Medications
  • Tumors
  • Genetic abnormalities of the pancreas

The most common causes of chronic pancreatitis include:

  • Prolonged and heavy use of alcohol
  • Hereditary disorder of the pancreas
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Hypercalcemia
  • High levels of blood fat
  • Certain medications
  • Certain autoimmune conditions
  • Some unknown causes

Diagnosing Pancreatitis

A doctor is likely to request a person’s medical history while conducting a thorough physical examination and ordering a blood test. Other tests that may be required to complete the diagnosis of pancreatitis include:

  • Abdominal Ultrasound
  • Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan
  • Endoscopic Ultrasound
  • Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)

Symptoms of Pancreatitis

The initial symptoms of acute pancreatitis typically include either sudden or gradual pain in the upper abdominal area that may extend to the back and may get worse after consumption of food. Other symptoms of acute pancreatitis include:

  • Swollen abdomen
  • Tender abdomen
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Dehydration
  • Rapid pulse
  • Low blood pressure
  • In very severe cases of acute pancreatitis, the possibility of failure of kidneys, lungs and heart exists. Also, if there is bleeding in the pancreas, it can lead to shock, or may even be fatal.

    People suffering from chronic pancreatitis may or may not feel pain in the upper abdomen. The pain may spread to the back, worsen after eating and may be debilitating. It is possible that the pain may recede as the condition gets worse. Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis other than pain include:

    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Weight loss, even if appetite and food consumption is normal
    • Diarrhea
    • Oily stools

Treatment for Pancreatitis

Treatment for Acute Pancreatitis

A person is likely to be hospitalized for treating acute pancreatitis. Acute pancreatitis treatment includes intravenous (IV) fluids, pain relief medications and antibiotics. In case of vomiting, a tube may have to be introduced into the stomach through the nose to remove air and fluid. In severe cases of acute pancreatitis, a person may need to be fed a special liquid through a tube in the nose going directly to the stomach until the pancreas heals.

After discharge from the hospital, the person is likely to be advised to quit smoking, quit drinking alcohol and avoid fatty foods.

Treatment for Chronic Pancreatitis

For chronic pancreatitis, a patient may be hospitalized for several weeks and may have to be fed a special liquid through the nose directly into the stomach for the entire duration. IV fluids, antibiotics and pain relief medication are also likely to be used in the treatment of chronic pancreatitis.

After discharge from the hospital, the person is likely to be advised to go on a low fat nutritious diet and eat small meals several times a day. Drinking a lot of fluids and restricting intake of caffeinated drinks is likely to be recommended.

Synthetic pancreatic enzymes are likely to be prescribed if the pancreas is unable to create and produce sufficient quantities of its enzymes. This is likely to help reverse weight loss by helping in digesting food.

ERCP for Acute and Chronic Pancreatitis

Therapeutic Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is a technique by which the pancreas, bile ducts and the gallbladder can be viewed and complications arising out of acute and chronic pancreatitis can be treated.

The following procedures can be performed using ERCP for treating acute or chronic pancreatitis:

  • Sphincterotomy
  • Gallstone removal
  • Stent placement, and
  • Balloon dilatation

People who undergo therapeutic ERCP for acute or chronic pancreatitis may be at a slight risk for complications, which may include severe pancreatitis, infection, bleeding or bowel perforation.

Types Of Pancreatitis

There are essentially two types of pancreatitis: i) Acute, and ii) Chronic.

Acute pancreatitis occurs suddenly, but tends to be resolved in some days with proper medical treatment. On the other hand, chronic pancreatitis does not heal or improve, but keeps getting worse over time.