The pancreas sits behind the stomach. It makes fluids that help to break down food in the small intestine. This fluid can become active in the pancreas and cause irritation and inflammation. This is called pancreatitis.
Acute pancreatitis is a sudden start of the inflammation. For most this type will pass in a few days.
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There are a number of conditions that may lead to acute pancreatitis including:
Sometimes the cause is not known.
Any of the following may increase the risk of acute pancreatitis:
Symptoms may include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and past health. An exam will be done. The doctor will check your belly for swelling and pain. You may be asked about your alcohol use and current medicine.
The doctor may suspect pancreatitis based on your pain. Other tests will help to make the diagnosis. Tests may include:
The doctor may also need to take images of the pancreas. The images can show changes to the pancreas. Some causes like gallstones, or duct blockages may also be seen. Images may be taken with:
Acute pancreatitis will often pass in a few days with proper care. Most will have no lasting damage.
The pancreas needs to rest. Since it is active every time you eat, you may need to adjust your diet. You may be asked to avoid fatty foods or stop eating for a couple days. It may also be hard for you to eat or drink because of nausea and vomiting.
A hospital stay may be recommended to provide the following:
Most will only need to be in the hospital for a few days.
Surgery may be needed if you do not respond to rest. It may also be needed to treat the cause.
Surgical options depend on the cause of pancreatitis, but may include:
Pancreatitis can happen again. To decrease your chances of it happening again:
Pancreatitis may happen again. To help reduce your chances of acute pancreatitis:
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
National Pancreas Foundation
Canadian Association of Gastroenterology
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Pancreatitis. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/pancreatitis/. Updated: August 6, 2018. Accessed August 31, 2018.
Pancreatitis. National Institue of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/pancreatitis/definition-facts. Updated: November 2017. Accessed August 31, 2018.
Prevention of acute pancreatitis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T904337 . Updated November 28, 2016. Accessed August 31, 2018.
4/7/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T127664/Acute-pancreatitis : Baker ME, Nelson RC, et al. ACR Appropriateness Criteria for acute pancreatitis. Available at: https://acsearch.acr.org/docs/69468/Narrative. Updated 2013.
8/28/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T127664/Acute-pancreatitis : Johnson CD, Besselink MG, Carter R. Acute pancreatitis. BMJ. 2014;349:g4859.
Last reviewed November 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 8/31/2018