What is acute pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis is inflammation (swelling) of your pancreas. Your pancreas is an organ in your upper belly that makes juices that help you digest food. Your pancreas also makes insulin, which helps control your blood sugar.
Acute means that the inflammation starts suddenly. Long-term pancreatitis is called chronic pancreatitis Chronic Pancreatitis Pancreatitis is inflammation of your pancreas. Your pancreas is an organ in your upper belly that makes juices that help you digest food. Your pancreas also makes insulin, which helps control... read more .
Usually, acute pancreatitis is caused by gallstones Gallstones Gallstones are solid material that can form in the gallbladder. Your gallbladder is the organ where your body stores bile. Bile is a digestive fluid that helps break down fats in food before... read more or by drinking a lot of alcohol for a long time
Pancreatitis ranges from mild to very serious
Acute pancreatitis causes severe belly pain
Doctors will care for you in the hospital, even if your acute pancreatitis is mild
What causes acute pancreatitis?
The main causes of acute pancreatitis are:
Gallstones Gallstones Gallstones are solid material that can form in the gallbladder. Your gallbladder is the organ where your body stores bile. Bile is a digestive fluid that helps break down fats in food before... read more (clumps of solid material that form in your gallbladder)
Gallstones can leave your gallbladder and get stuck where the drainage tubes from the gallbladder and pancreas join together. These stones block digestive juices from getting out of the pancreas.
Drinking too much alcohol for many years damages your pancreas. The more you drink and the longer you drink, the more likely you are to get pancreatitis.
The many other, less common causes of acute pancreatitis include:
Certain medicines or hormone (estrogen) treatments
High levels of fats in your blood
Certain virus infections
Injury to your pancreas
A type of pancreatitis you can inherit
What are the symptoms of acute pancreatitis?
The main symptom is:
Severe pain in your upper belly that sometimes you also feel in the middle of your back
You may also have symptoms such as:
Feeling sick to your stomach and throwing up
If your pancreatitis is very severe, you may get more serious problems, such as:
Damage to your other organs, such as your lungs or kidneys
Infection of the pancreas
Forming a fluid-filled sac in your pancreas (pseudocyst)
How can doctors tell if I have acute pancreatitis?
Doctors do tests, including:
If your doctor suspects gallstones, you might also have other tests such as:
MRCP (magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography—a special kind of MRI Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) MRI is a test that uses a machine with a powerful magnet to make pictures of the inside of your body. A computer records changes in the magnetic field around your body. The computer then uses... read more that lets your doctor see pictures of your liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, pancreas, or pancreatic duct)
Endoscopic ultrasound (a special kind of ultrasound using a long tube that's passed through your mouth and down into your intestine)
How do doctors treat acute pancreatitis?
Doctors treat mild pancreatitis using:
A short stay in the hospital
Fasting (not eating at all) for 2 to 3 days to rest your pancreas
Fluids in your vein
Doctors treat more serious pancreatitis using:
A stay in a hospital
Fasting for a few days or up to several weeks (you get nutrition through a tube into your vein or through your nose and into your stomach or intestine)
Medicine in your vein for pain and feeling sick
Fluids in your vein
Sometimes, a tube through your nose into your stomach to take out fluids and air
Medicines to lower your stomach acid
Oxygen or a ventilator if you're very ill
Antibiotics for any infections
Surgery to remove some of the diseased pancreas or other procedures if needed, such as to open the pancreatic duct or remove a gallstone