What is Pancreatitis?

The pancreas is responsible for regulating blood glucose levels and it plays a major role in the digestion process. Pancreatitis is marked by acute or chronic inflammation of the organ, and it poses a threat to good health. It can also be life-threatening.

Swelling occurs because pancreatic enzymes that should reach the small intestines remain in the pancreas. Acute pancreatitis can become chronic if damage continues and scar tissue forms.

Many diseases and conditions can cause pancreatitis, and they include:

  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Prior abdominal surgeries or injury
  • Specific medications
  • Tobacco use
  • Hereditary diseases including cystic fibrosis
  • A specific type of imaging used in gallstone treatment (ERCP)
  • Genetic susceptibility to pancreatitis
  • High blood calcium levels
  • Elevated blood triglyceride levels
  • Infection
  • Cancer of the pancreas

What are the Symptoms of Pancreatitis?

The symptoms of pancreatitis may be mild to severe. It largely depends on the type. Chronic pancreatitis develops gradually, and it may be asymptomatic with the exception of swelling. Acute pancreatitis can develop very suddenly and cause debilitating pain.

Symptoms of acute pancreatitis may include:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen that may travel around the back
  • Stomach pain that worsens after eating
  • Queasiness
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal tenderness

Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis may include:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Unusually foul smelling fatty bowel movements

How is Pancreatitis Treated?

The initial goal in treating pancreatitis is the reduction of swelling. The digestive system needs time to rest. Methods to reduce inflammation may include:

  • A low-fat, bland and clear liquid diet or a feeding tube
  • Medication for pain
  • Intravenous fluids to avoid dehydration

The treatment of underlying causes is also necessary. Other treatments for pancreatitis may include:

  • Gallbladder removal
  • Clearing and widening the bile ducts
  • Pancreatic surgery
  • Changes in lifestyle including alcoholism treatment, improved diet and cessation of smoking
  • Oral enzymes to improve digestion
  • Alternatives to certain medications
  • Permanent dietary changes that include nutritious low-fat foods and beverages
Last Reviewed:
October 07, 2016
Last Updated:
August 23, 2017