Acute pancreatitis (patient information)
Acute pancreatitis On the Web
For the WikiDoc page for this topic, click here
Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. ; Assistant Editor-In-Chief: Meagan E. Doherty
Acute pancreatitis is swelling (inflammation) of the pancreas. The pancreas is a gland located behind the stomach. It releases digestive enzymes and the hormones insulin and glucagon.
What are the symptoms of Acute pancreatitis?
- Abdominal pain that is greatest in the upper abdomen (upper left quadrant or upper middle of the abdomen)
- Is persistent or chronic
- May be worse lying flat on the back.
- May spread (radiate) to the back or below the left shoulder blade.
- May be worse after eating or drinking (occurs within minutes following meals), especially foods with a high fat content.
- May be worse after drinking alcohol.
- Mild jaundice
- Nausea and vomiting
Other symptoms that may occur with this disease:
- Clay-colored stools
- Gaseous abdominal fullness
- Skin rash or lesion
- Swollen abdomen
Diseases with similar symptoms include :
What are the causes of Acute pancreatitis?
The main causes of acute pancreatitis in adults are:
Other causes include:
- Certain medications (especially estrogens, corticosteroids, thiazide diuretics, and azathioprine)
- Common bile duct surgical procedures
- Surgery to the pancreas
- Traumatic injury
- Viral infection (mumps, coxsackie B, mycoplasma pneumonia, and campylobacter)
Acute pancreatitis may also be caused by:
- An abnormal structure of the pancreas
- Complications of cystic fibrosis
- Genetic factors (hereditary pancreatitis)
- High lipid levels in the blood (hypertriglyceridemia)
What exactly causes pancreatitis is not well known. It is thought that enzymes the pancreas normally releases in an inactive form become activated inside the pancreas and start to digest the pancreatic tissue. This process is called autodigestion. It causes swelling, bleeding (hemorrhage), and damage to the blood vessels.
In children, this disorder may be associated with:
- Abdominal trauma
- Cystic fibrosis
- Hemolytic uremic syndrome
- Kawasaki disease
- Reye syndrome
- Some medications
- Various viral illnesses
Who is at highest risk?
The disease affects men more often than women. Alcohol abuse is an important risk factor.
An examination used to diagnose acute pancreatitis may show:
Tests that show release of pancreatic enzymes:
- Elevated serum amylase
- Elevated serum lipase
- Elevated urine amylase
Test that show inflammation of the pancreas:
- Abdominal CT scan
- Abdominal MRI
- Abdominal ultrasound
Other blood tests:
When to seek urgent medical care?
Call your provider if:
- You have intense, constant abdominal pain
- You develop other symptoms of acute pancreatitis
Treatment is aimed at supportive measures, such as:
- Relieving pain
- Replacing fluids by intravenous (IV) infusion
- Withholding food or fluid by mouth to limit the activity of the pancreas
Occasionally a tube will be inserted through the nose or mouth to remove the contents of the stomach (nasogastric suctioning). This may be done if there is persistent vomiting or severe pain, or if a paralytic ileus develops.
Treating the condition that caused the problem can prevent recurrent attacks.
In some cases, radiologic or endoscopic therapy is needed to:
- Drain fluid collections in or around the pancreas
- Remove gallstones
- Relieve blockages of the pancreatic duct
In the most severe cases, surgery is necessary to remove dead, infected pancreatic tissue.
Where to find medical care for Acute pancreatitis?
Directions to Hospitals Treating Acute pancreatitis
Prevention of Acute pancreatitis
To protect against acute pancreatitis, prevent the disorders that cause it:
- Avoid aspirin when treating a fever in children, especially if they may have a viral illness, to reduce the risk of Reye syndrome.
- Do not abuse alcohol.
- Get genetic counseling if you would like to have children and you have a family or personal history of cystic fibrosis.
- Immunize children against mumps and other childhood illnesses
- Use proper safety precautions to avoid abdominal trauma.
If you develop acute pancreatitis as a result of alcohol use, avoid all alcohol in the future. If you develop acute pancreatitis as a result of a medication, avoid the medication in the future.
What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?
Most cases go away in a week. However, some cases develop into a life-threatening illness.
The death rate is high with:
- Hemorrhagic pancreatitis
- Liver, heart, or kidney impairment
- Necrotizing pancreatitis
It is common for the condition to return.
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
- Build-up of fluid in the abdomen (ascites)
- Cysts or abscesses in the pancreas
- Heart failure
- Kidney failure
- Low blood pressure