Learn About Acute Pancreatitis

What is the definition of Acute Pancreatitis?

Acute pancreatitis is sudden swelling and inflammation of the pancreas.

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What are the alternative names for Acute Pancreatitis?

Gallstone pancreatitis; Pancreas - inflammation

What are the causes of Acute Pancreatitis?

The pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach. It produces the hormones insulin and glucagon. It also produces chemicals called enzymes needed to digest food.

Most of the time, the enzymes are active only after they reach the small intestine.

  • If these enzymes become active inside the pancreas, they can digest the tissue of the pancreas. This causes swelling, bleeding, and damage to the organ and its blood vessels.
  • This problem is called acute pancreatitis.

Acute pancreatitis affects men more often than women. Certain diseases, surgeries, and habits make you more likely to develop this condition.

  • Alcohol use is responsible for up to 70% of cases in the United States. About 5 to 8 drinks per day for 5 or more years can damage the pancreas.
  • Gallstones are the next most common cause. When the gallstones travel out of the gallbladder into the bile ducts, they block the opening that drains bile and enzymes. The bile and enzymes "back up" into the pancreas and cause swelling.
  • Genetics may be a factor in some cases. Sometimes, the cause is not known.

Other conditions that have been linked to pancreatitis are:

  • Autoimmune problems (when the immune system attacks the body)
  • Damage to the ducts or pancreas during surgery
  • High blood levels of a fat called triglycerides -- most often above 1,000 mg/dL
  • Injury to the pancreas from an accident

Other causes include:

  • After certain procedures used to diagnose gallbladder and pancreas problems (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, ERCP) or ultrasound guided biopsy
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Overactive parathyroid gland
  • Reye syndrome
  • Use of certain medicines (especially estrogens, corticosteroids, sulfonamides, thiazides, and azathioprine)
  • Certain infections, such as mumps, that involve the pancreas
What are the symptoms of Acute Pancreatitis?

The main symptom of pancreatitis is pain felt in the upper left side or middle of the abdomen. The pain:

  • May be worse within minutes after eating or drinking at first, more commonly if foods have a high fat content
  • Becomes constant and more severe, lasting for several days
  • May be worse when lying flat on the back
  • May spread (radiate) to the back or below the left shoulder blade

People with acute pancreatitis often look ill and have a fever, nausea, vomiting, and sweating.

Other symptoms that may occur with this disease include:

  • Clay-colored stools
  • Bloating and fullness
  • Hiccups
  • Indigestion
  • Mild yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • Swollen abdomen
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What are the current treatments for Acute Pancreatitis?

Treatment often requires a stay in the hospital. It may involve:

  • Pain medicines
  • Fluids given through a vein (IV)
  • Stopping food or fluid by mouth to limit the activity of the pancreas

A tube may be inserted through the nose or mouth to remove the contents of the stomach. This may be done if vomiting and severe pain do not improve. The tube will stay in for 1 to 2 days to 1 to 2 weeks.

Treating the condition that caused the problem can prevent repeated attacks.

In some cases, therapy is needed to:

  • Drain fluid that has collected in or around the pancreas
  • Remove gallstones
  • Relieve blockages of the pancreatic duct

In the most severe cases, surgery is needed to remove damaged, dead or infected pancreatic tissue.

Avoid smoking, alcoholic drinks, and fatty foods after the attack has improved.

Who are the top Acute Pancreatitis Local Doctors?
Highly rated in

Orlando Health Digestive Health Institute

52 W Underwood St 
Orlando, FL 32806

Shyam Varadarajulu is a Gastroenterologist in Orlando, Florida. Dr. Varadarajulu has been practicing medicine for over 29 years and is rated as an Elite doctor by MediFind in the treatment of Acute Pancreatitis. He is also highly rated in 28 other conditions, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Pancreatic Pseudocyst, Hereditary Pancreatitis, Acute Pancreatitis, and Jaundice. He is board certified in Gastroenterology and licensed to treat patients in Florida. Dr. Varadarajulu is currently accepting new patients.

Highly rated in
Internal Medicine

Medical University of South Carolina Health System

Ashley River Tower

25 Courtenay Dr 
Charleston, SC 29425

Badih Joseph is a Gastroenterologist and a Student in Charleston, South Carolina. Dr. Joseph is rated as an Elite doctor by MediFind in the treatment of Acute Pancreatitis. He is also highly rated in 19 other conditions, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Hereditary Pancreatitis, Acute Pancreatitis, Choledocholithiasis, and Gallstones. He is board certified in Gastroenterology and Internal Medicine and licensed to treat patients in Michigan and South Carolina. Dr. Joseph is currently accepting new patients.

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Highly rated in

Cleveland Clinic Health System

Cleveland Clinic Main Campus

9500 Euclid Ave 
Cleveland, OH 44195

Tyler Stevens is a Gastroenterologist in Cleveland, Ohio. Dr. Stevens has been practicing medicine for over 23 years and is rated as an Elite doctor by MediFind in the treatment of Acute Pancreatitis. He is also highly rated in 18 other conditions, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Acute Pancreatitis, Hereditary Pancreatitis, Chronic Pancreatitis, and Gallstones. He is board certified in Gastroenterology and Internal Medicine and licensed to treat patients in Ohio. Dr. Stevens is currently accepting new patients.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Acute Pancreatitis?

Most cases go away in a week or less. However, some cases develop into a life-threatening illness.

The death rate is high when:

  • Bleeding in the pancreas has occurred.
  • Liver, heart, or kidney problems are also present.
  • An abscess forms the pancreas.
  • There is death or necrosis of larger amounts of tissue in the pancreas.

Sometimes the swelling and infection do not fully heal. Repeat episodes of pancreatitis may also occur. Either of these can lead to long-term damage of the pancreas.

What are the possible complications of Acute Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis can return. The chances of it returning depend on the cause, and how well it can be treated. Complications of acute pancreatitis may include:

  • Acute kidney failure
  • Long-term lung damage (ARDS)
  • Buildup of fluid in the abdomen (ascites)
  • Cysts or abscesses in the pancreas
  • Heart failure
When should I contact a medical professional for Acute Pancreatitis?

Call your provider if:

  • You have intense, constant abdominal pain.
  • You develop other symptoms of acute pancreatitis.
How do I prevent Acute Pancreatitis?

You may lower your risk of new or repeat episodes of pancreatitis by taking steps to prevent the medical conditions that can lead to the disease:

  • DO NOT drink alcohol if it is the likely cause of the acute attack.
  • Make sure children receive vaccines to protect them against mumps and other childhood illnesses.
  • Treat medical problems that lead to high blood levels of triglycerides.
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What are the latest Acute Pancreatitis Clinical Trials?
Elastography in the Diagnosis of Chronic Pancreatitis
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Randomized Trial Comparing Immediate Endoscopic Necrosectomy vs. Step-up Endoscopic Interventions in Necrotizing Pancreatitis
What are the Latest Advances for Acute Pancreatitis?
Acute pancreatitis or severe increase in pancreatic enzyme levels following remdesivir administration in COVID-19 patients: an observational study.
Observation and analysis on clinical efficacy of Dachengqi decoction for acute pancreatitis.
Tired of the same old research?
Check Latest Advances
A New Entity of Walled off Extra Pancreatic Necrosis is Associated with Better Outcomes Following Endoscopic Transmural Drainage.
Who are the sources who wrote this article ?

Published Date : October 17, 2019
Published By : Michael M. Phillips, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 09/29/2021.

What are the references for this article ?

Forsmark CE. Pancreatitis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 135.

Paskar DD, Marshall JC. Acute pancreatitis. In: Parrillo JE, Dellinger RP, eds. Critical Care Medicine: Principles of Diagnosis and Management in the Adult. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 73.

Tenner S, Baillie J, DeWitt J, Vege SS; American College of Gastroenterology. American College of Gastroenterology guideline: management of acute pancreatitis. Am J Gastroenterol. 2013;108(9):1400-1415. PMID: 23896955 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23896955/.

Tenner S, Steinberg WM. Acute pancreatitis. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology/Diagnosis/Management. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 58.