Symptoms and Signs of Acute and Chronic Pancreatitis

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 10/29/2021

Doctor's Notes on Acute and Chronic Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis refers to inflammation of the pancreas, an organ in the upper abdomen. The main function of the pancreas is to secrete hormones and enzymes to aid digestion and regulate blood glucose. Pancreatitis may be an acute (coming on suddenly) illness or may progress over time (chronic pancreatitis). Although there are a number of possible causes, gallstones and alcohol consumption are the most common causes of pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis leads to characteristic symptoms, which include:

  • pain in the abdomen that may radiate to the back,
  • nausea,
  • vomiting, and
  • pain that worsens after eating.

Associated symptoms can include:

  • fever,
  • chills,
  • lethargy,
  • weakness,
  • weight loss, and
  • tenderness of the abdomen.

If pancreatitis progresses, it can lead to complications such as:

What Is the Treatment for Pancreatitis?

The treatment for pancreatitis typically includes fasting and intravenous fluid. Intravenous pain medications are also often necessary for symptom relief. Further treatment may depend on the underlying reason for pancreatitis and involve discontinuation of alcohol use or surgical treatment for gallstones, for example.

Medications to control nausea are also used in the management of pancreatitis. In chronic cases, it may be necessary to take pancreatic enzyme supplements to aid digestion.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.