Acute pancreatitis is a condition in which the pancreas suddenly becomes irritated and swollen (has inflammation). The pancreas is a gland that is located behind the stomach. It produces enzymes that help to digest food. The pancreas also releases the hormones glucagon and insulin, which help to regulate blood sugar. Damage to the pancreas occurs when the digestive enzymes from the pancreas are activated before they are released into the intestine.
Most acute attacks last a couple of days and can cause serious problems. Some people become dehydrated and develop low blood pressure. In severe cases, bleeding into the pancreas can lead to shock and can be life-threatening. The lungs, heart, and kidneys may fail.
What are the causes?
The most common causes of this condition are:
- Alcohol abuse.
- Other causes include:
- Certain medicines.
- Exposure to certain chemicals.
- Damage caused by an accident (trauma).
- Abdominal surgery.
In some cases, the cause may not be known.
What are the signs or symptoms?
Symptoms of this condition include:
- Pain in the upper abdomen that may radiate to the back.
- Tenderness and swelling of the abdomen.
- Nausea and vomiting.
How is this diagnosed?
This condition may be diagnosed based on:
- A physical exam.
- Blood tests.
- Imaging tests, such as X-rays, CT scans, or an ultrasound of the abdomen.
How is this treated?
Treatment for this condition usually requires a stay in the hospital. Treatment may include:
- Pain medicine.
- Fluid replacement through an IV tube.
- Placing a tube in the stomach to remove stomach contents and to control vomiting (NG tube, oro-nasogastric tube).
- Not eating for 3–4 days. This gives the pancreas a rest, because enzymes are not being produced that can cause further damage.
- Antibiotic medicines, if your condition is caused by an infection.
- Surgery on the pancreas or gallbladder.
Follow these instructions at home: Eating and
- Follow instructions from your health care provider about diet. This may involve avoiding alcohol and decreasing the amount of fat in your diet.
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals. This reduces the amount of digestive fluids that the pancreas produces.
- Drink enough fluid to keep your urine clear or pale yellow.
- Do not drink alcohol if it caused your condition.
- Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.
- Do not use any tobacco products, such as cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and e- cigarettes. If you need help quitting, ask your health care provider.
- Get plenty of rest.
- If directed, check your blood sugar at home as told by your health care provider.
- Keep all follow-up visits as told by your health care provider. This is important.
Contact a health care provider if:
- You do not recover as quickly as expected.
- You develop new or worsening symptoms.
- You have persistent pain, weakness, or nausea.
- You recover and then have another episode of pain.
- You have a fever.
Get help right away if:
- You cannot eat or keep fluids down.
- Your pain becomes severe.
- Your skin or the white part of your eyes turns yellow (jaundice).
- You vomit.
- You feel dizzy or you faint.
- Your blood sugar is high (over 300 mg/dL).