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Pancreatitis (cont.)

What Is the Outlook for a Person Who Has Pancreatitis?

Most people with acute pancreatitis recover completely from their illness unless they develop necrotizing pancreatitis. The pancreas returns to normal with no long-term effects. Pancreatitis may return, however, if the underlying cause is not eliminated.

Some 5%-10% of people develop life-threatening pancreatitis and may be left with any of these chronic illnesses, or even die due to complications of pancreatitis:

  • Kidney failure
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Diabetes
  • Brain damage

Chronic pancreatitis does not resolve completely between attacks. Although the symptoms may be similar to those of acute pancreatitis, chronic pancreatitis is a much more serious condition because damage to the pancreas is an ongoing process. This ongoing damage can have any of the following complications:

  • Bleeding in or around the pancreas: Ongoing inflammation and damage to the blood vessels surrounding the pancreas can lead to bleeding. Fast bleeding can be a life-threatening condition. Slow bleeding usually leads to low red blood cell count (anemia).
  • Infection: Ongoing inflammation makes the tissue vulnerable to infection. The infection can form an abscess that is very difficult to treat without surgery.
  • Pseudocysts: Small fluid-filled sacs can form in the pancreas as a result of ongoing damage. These sacs can become infected or rupture into the lower abdominal cavity (peritoneum), causing a serious infection called peritonitis.
  • Breathing problems: The chemical changes in the body can affect the lungs. The effect is to reduce the amount of oxygen the lungs can absorb from the air a person breathes. The level of oxygen in the blood drops to lower than normal (hypoxia).
  • Pancreas failure: The pancreas may become so severely damaged that it is unable to carry out its normal functions. Digestion of food and regulation of blood sugar - both very important functions - are affected. Diabetes and weight loss often result.
  • Pancreatic cancer: Chronic pancreatitis can encourage the growth of abnormal cells in the pancreas, which can become cancer. The prognosis for pancreatic cancer is very poor.


Gardner, T., MD. "Acute Pancreatitis." Medscape. Updated Apr 4, 2015

Huffman, J., MD. "Chronic Pancreatitis." Medscape. Updated Apr 4, 2015

The National Pancreas Foundation. Nutrition Advice and Recipes.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/15/2017

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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.

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