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Pancreatitis Quick Overview

  • Pancreatitis simply means inflammation of the pancreas. There are two types of pancreatitis, acute and chronic.
  • Causes of acute pancreatitis and chronic are similar; about 80%-90% are caused by alcohol abuse and gallstones (about 35%-45% for each); while the remaining 10%-20% are caused by
    • medications,
    • chemical exposures,
    • trauma,
    • hereditary diseases,
    • infections,
    • surgical procedures, and
    • high fat levels in the blood and genetic abnormalities with pancreas or intestine
  • Symptoms of acute pancreatitis most commonly begins with abdominal pain in the middle or upper left part of the abdomen and may increase after eating or lying flat the back. Other symptoms include
    • nausea,
    • fever,
    • rapid heartbeat, and
    • dehydration.
    • Severe acute pancreatitis symptoms and signs may show skin discoloration around the belly button or the side of the body between the ribs and hip (flank), or small erythematous skin nodules.
  • Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis may or may not include abdominal pain that may include
  • Individuals should seek medical care if they have severe abdominal pain is not relieved by over-the-counter (OTC) medications or have unexplained
    • abdominal pain,
    • inability to eat or drink because of nausea and vomiting,
    • difficulty breathing or abdominal pain with fever, chills, weakness, and/or fatigue, or
    • unexplained abdominal pain with other medical conditions such as pregnancy.
  • Diagnosis of pancreatitis (both acute and chronic) is done similarly. Patient history will be taken, physical exam will be performed, and various tests may be ordered like complete blood count (CBC), pregnancy test, electrolyte abnormalities, X-rays, CT or MRI scans endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP).
  • Although acute pancreatitis should not be treated at home initially, there are steps that can help prevent or reduce symptoms.
  • The major risk factors for pancreatitis are heavy alcohol consumption and a history of gallstones; they cause about 80%-90% of pancreatitis; other factors such as genetics and medications may increase an individual's risk.
  • Treatment of acute pancreatitis is done according to the underlying cause. Most acute cases of pancreatitis are treated in the hospital or the goal is to relieve symptoms in support body functions so that the pancreas can recover from the inflammation (if the inflammation is caused by infection, antibiotics are given).
  • Treatment of chronic pancreatitis is often treated with pain relieving medications, diet changes. Some patients may require oral pancreatic enzymes in pill form to help digest food and others may require insulin. All patients with pancreatitis are strongly advised to stop drinking alcohol.
  • Surgical treatment of pancreatitis may be used to remove gallstones and the gallbladder or abnormalities in the pancreas.
  • A pancreatitic diet is a low-fat diet; no more than 20g/day and no alcohol but plenty of fluid and with chronic pancreatitis flares, only clear liquids with no foods may be recommended for 24-48 hours.
  • Follow-up for pancreatitis can help patients prevent further attacks by monitoring the diet, identifying any medications or chemicals that may have contributed to pancreatitis and allows the physician to reinforce the stoppage of all alcohol consumption.
  • Pancreatitis can be reduced or prevented by stopping alcohol consumption; early intervention to prevent complications of gallstones also may reduce the chance of developing pancreatitis.
  • About 90%-95% of patients treated for acute pancreatitis may completely recover if the underlying cause such as alcohol or infection is appropriately treated.
  • Some people may develop chronic pancreatitis or die from complications such as kidney failure diabetes breathing problems and/or brain damage. The prognosis for someone with chronic pancreatitis is less optimistic than for acute pancreatitis as the damage is ongoing and can develop complications, for example, bleeding, infection, pancreatic failure, and pancreatic cancer.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/30/2015

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Pancreatitis Symptoms

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The main symptom of sudden (acute) pancreatitis is sudden moderate to severe pain in the upper area of the belly (abdomen). Occasionally the pain is mild. But the pain may feel as though it bores through the abdomen to the back. Sitting up or leaning forward sometimes makes the pain less. Other symptoms of an attack of pancreatitis are:

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Fever.
  • Fast heart rate.
  • Sweating.
  • Yellowing of the skin or the whites of the eyes (jaundice).
  • Shock.

Long-term (chronic) pancreatitis also causes severe pain in the upper abdomen. As the condition progresses, fat may be released into your stools, indicating that your body is not absorbing fat and protein. As a result, you may have diarrhea and lose weight. You also could develop diabetes if your pancreas no longer produces enough insulin.

Other conditions that have similar symptoms include bowel obstruction, appendicitis, cholecystitis, peptic ulcer disease, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).


Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Pancreatitis, Acute »

The pancreas is a gland located in the upper, posterior abdomen and is responsible for insulin production (endocrine pancreas) and the manufacture and secretion of digestive enzymes (exocrine pancreas) leading to carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

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