The pancreas is a long, flat, pear-shaped organ located behind the stomach. It makes digestive enzymes and hormones, including insulin. Acute pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas that occurs suddenly and resolves with proper treatment.
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Pancreatitis occurs when digestive enzymes are activated in the pancreas instead of the small intestine. Acute pancreatitis has several causes. In some cases, the cause may be unknown.
Known causes of acute pancreatitis include
Factors that may increase your risk of acute pancreatitis include:
Symptoms may occur one time or many times. Repeated flare ups of symptoms are known as attacks.
Acute pancreatitis may cause:
Untreated acute pancreatitis may progress into chronic pancreatitis, a serious condition where the pancreas becomes permanently damaged.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor will ask how much alcohol you drink and what medications you take. Diagnosis can be determined by your symptoms and results from blood tests.
Your body fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
Images may be taken of your body structures. This can be done with:
Treatment for acute pancreatitis depends on the severity of the attack and what is causing it. For example, if medication is the cause of your pancreatitis, your doctor may change to a different medication or adjust the dose.
In most cases, acute pancreatitis isn't severe and can be treated. Treatment includes:
Generally, acute pancreatitis treatment requires hospitalization. Fluid and nutritional support can be given by IV while your pancreas heals. During this time, you will be unable to eat or drink. Supplemental oxygen may also be given.
If you have severe pancreatitis, you may need a nasogastric tube. A long, thin tube is threaded through your nose and into your stomach for feeding.
You may also start treatment for any underlying causes of your pancreatitis.
Your doctor may recommend:
In general, surgery isn't necessary for mild pancreatitis. It may be necessary when medical treatment doesn't work for more severe cases. Surgery may also be used to treat underlying conditions.
Surgical procedures include:
To help reduce your chance of getting acute pancreatitis, take these steps:
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
National Pancreas Foundation
Canadian Association of Gastroenterology
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Last reviewed November 2015. by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 12/20/2014