Pancreatitis Symptoms, Causes, Diet, and Treatment
Facts about and Definition of Pancreatitis
- Pancreatitis simply means inflammation of the pancreas. There are two types of pancreatitis, acute and chronic.
- Causes of acute pancreatitis and chronic pancreatitis 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 abdominal pain may increase after eating or lying flat the back. Other symptoms may include
- 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.
- Necrotizing pancreatitis is a severe form of acute pancreatitis characterized by necrosis in and around the pancreas.
- Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis may or may not include abdominal pain that may include
- 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.
- 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 pancreatic 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.
- 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.
What Is Pancreatitis?
The pancreas is a gland located in the upper part of the abdomen. It produces two main types of substances: digestive juices and digestive hormones. Inflammation of the pancreas is termed pancreatitis and its inflammation has various causes. Once the gland becomes inflamed, the condition can progress to swelling of the gland and surrounding blood vessels, bleeding, infection, and damage to the gland. There, digestive juices become trapped and start "digesting" the pancreas itself. If this damage persists, the gland may not be able to carry out normal functions. Pancreatitis may be acute (new, short-term) or chronic (ongoing, long-term). Either type can be very severe, even life-threatening. Either type can have serious complications.
- Acute pancreatitis usually begins soon after the damage to the pancreas begins. Attacks are typically very mild, but about 20% of them are very severe. An attack lasts for a short time and usually resolves completely as the pancreas returns to its normal state. Some people have only one attack, whereas other people have more than one attack, but the pancreas always returns to its normal state unless necrotizing pancreatitis develops and becomes life-threatening.
- Chronic pancreatitis begins as acute pancreatitis. If the pancreas becomes scarred during the attack of acute pancreatitis, it cannot return to its normal state. The damage to the gland continues, worsening over time.
The reported annual incidence of acute pancreatitis has ranged from 4.9 to 80 cases per 100,000 people. About 80,000 cases of acute pancreatitis occur in the United States each year. Pancreatitis can occur in people of all ages, although it is very rare in children. Pancreatitis occurs in men and women, although chronic pancreatitis is more common in men than in women.
Illustration of the location of the pancreas, liver, and gallbladder
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/20/2017
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