MediFind
Condition

Acute Pancreatitis

Condition 101

What is the definition of Acute Pancreatitis?

Acute pancreatitis is sudden swelling and inflammation of the pancreas.

What are the alternative names for Acute Pancreatitis?

Gallstone pancreatitis; Pancreas - inflammation

What are the causes for 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 only active 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 (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 for 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

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.

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 for 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.

REFERENCES

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.

Latest Research

Latest Advance
Study
  • Condition: Familial Chylomicronemia Syndrome (FCS) or Hypertriglyceridemia
  • Journal: Drug design, development and therapy
  • Treatment Used: Volanesorsen
  • Number of Patients: 0
  • Published —
This article discusses volanesorsen in the treatment of familial chylomicronaemia syndrome (FCS), a rare disorder of lipid metabolism characterized by high levels of triglycerides (TGs).
Latest Advance
Study
  • Condition: Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus
  • Journal: Metabolism: clinical and experimental
  • Treatment Used: Dipeptidyl Peptidase-4 Inhibitors (DPP-4is)
  • Number of Patients: 0
  • Published —
This study evaluated the effectiveness and safety of dipeptidyl peptidase-4 inhibitors (DPP-4is) in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus (disease that occurs when the blood sugar is too high).
Latest Advance
Study
  • Condition: Severe Hypertriglyceridemia
  • Journal: Blood purification
  • Treatment Used: Double Filtration Plasmapheresis
  • Number of Patients: 10
  • Published —
In this study, researchers evaluated the outcomes of using double filtration plasmapheresis for the treatment of severe hypertriglyceridemia.
Latest Advance
Study
  • Condition: Intractable External Pancreatic Fistula Post-Necrosectomy
  • Journal: Annali italiani di chirurgia
  • Treatment Used: Fistulojejunostomy
  • Number of Patients: 1
  • Published —
This case report describes a patient with intractable external pancreatic fistula post-necrosectomy that was treated using a fistulojejunostomy.

Clinical Trials

Clinical Trial
Drug
  • Status: Recruiting
  • Study Type: Drug
  • Participants: 42
  • Start Date: September 2020
CRSPA: Phase I/II Study of CM4620 to Reduce the Severity of Pancreatitis Due to Asparaginase
Clinical Trial
Procedure
  • Status: Recruiting
  • Study Type: Procedure
  • Participants: 112
  • Start Date: June 12, 2020
A Randomized Controlled Trials on the Effect of Necrotic Cavity Lavage After Laparoscope-assisted Debridement for Patients With Infected Pancreatic Necrosis
Clinical Trial
Diagnostic Test
  • Status: Recruiting
  • Study Type: Diagnostic Test
  • Participants: 360
  • Start Date: December 26, 2019
Predictive Ability of Intra-Abdominal Pressure for Mortality in Patients With Severe Acute Pancreatitis: A Prospective Observational Study