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Pancreatitis - An Overview

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Pancreatitis - An Overview

4 min read


Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. Read the article below to learn more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Vasavada Bhavin Bhupendra

Published At August 9, 2019
Reviewed AtMay 31, 2024

What Is Pancreas?

The pancreas is a six inch long organ present in the abdomen behind the stomach. It does both digestive and endocrine functions. Its endocrine function includes regulating the blood sugar levels by secreting hormones insulin, glucagon, somatostatin, and pancreatic peptide. It also helps in digestion by secreting pancreatic juice (digestive juice) through the pancreatic duct into the duodenum.

What Is Pancreatitis?

Inflammation of the pancreas is called pancreatitis. This inflammation can appear suddenly or last for days. Mild cases resolve on their own without treatment, but some severe and acute cases might result in life-threatening complications.

What Are the Risk Factors for Pancreatitis?

Gallbladder stones and heavy alcohol use are the two most common risk factors for developing pancreatitis.

What Are the Types of Pancreatitis?

The two types of pancreatitis are:

  1. Acute Pancreatitis:

This type of inflammation develops quickly. The milder forms do not require treatment, but the severe form should be managed promptly to avoid fatal complications. It can result in the death (necrosis) of pancreatic tissues and sepsis, which can lead to multiorgan failure. Acute blood and fluid loss can result in hypovolemic shock, which can lead to oxygen deprivation and death.

What Are the Symptoms of Acute Pancreatitis?

The symptoms of acute pancreatitis are:

  • Sudden pain in the center of the upper abdomen.

  • Pain spreads to the back.

  • Pain increases during eating.

  • Vomiting and diarrhea.

  • Loss of appetite.

  • Fever.

  • Rapid pulse.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Yellowish discoloration of skin and sclera (jaundice).

  • High or low blood pressure.

What Are the Causes of Acute Pancreatitis?

The common causes of acute pancreatitis are:

  • Gallstones can get stuck in the bile duct, which also prevents the pancreas from releasing enzymes into the duodenum, resulting in inflammation.

  • Bacterial infections like Salmonellosis and Legionnaires disease (type of pneumonia caused by legionella bacteria.)

  • Viral infections like mumps, measles, chickenpox, and hepatitis B.

  • Autoimmune conditions like lupus.

  • Alcoholism results in the activation of trypsin inside the pancreas, which damages the pancreas and causes inflammation.

  • High calcium and triglyceride levels.

  • Genetic mutation.

  • Certain medications.

  • Pancreatic cancer.

  • Abdominal injury.

What Are the Treatments for Acute Pancreatitis?

1. For mild cases, medicines are given to relieve symptoms as the pancreas heals itself. The treatment includes -

  • Painkillers.

  • A tube to remove excess liquid and air (nasogastric tubes).

  • Restricting food and liquid intake through the mouth.

  • Fluids to prevent dehydration.

2. For severe cases -

  • If caused by a bacterial infection, antibiotics are given intravenously.

  • To prevent hypovolemic shock, intravenous fluids are administered.

  • Ventilation to assist breathing.

  • Nutrition is provided through feeding tubes.

  • Necrotic tissues in the pancreas are surgically removed.

3. Chronic Pancreatitis:

Chronic pancreatitis is a slow and progressive disease of the pancreas, which leads to permanent damage to the structure and function of the pancreas. Men are more commonly affected than women.

What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Pancreatitis?

The common initial symptoms include:

  • Severe upper abdominal pain.

  • Pain is accompanied by vomiting and nausea.

  • Foul-smelling stools.

  • Stomach cramps.

  • Bloating.

  • Abdominal gas.

This can damage the pancreas, which eventually is not able to produce insulin, resulting in type 1 diabetes. At this stage, the patient experiences symptoms of diabetes like increased thirst and hunger, frequent urination, weight loss, fatigue, and blurred vision.

What Are the Causes of Chronic Pancreatitis?

The common causes include:

  • Recurrent episodes of acute pancreatitis.

  • Alcoholism.

  • Gallstones.

  • When the cause is not known, it is called idiopathic chronic pancreatitis.

  • Autoimmune condition.

  • Cystic fibrosis.

  • Family history.

What is the Treatment For Chronic Pancreatitis?

The following are the treatment options:

Lifestyle Modification -

  • The pain is significantly relieved by giving up alcohol.

  • Quit smoking, as it can make the disease progress quickly.

  • Painkillers are given to manage pain and depression, which result from chronic pain.

  • If the patient has developed type 1 diabetes, Insulin injections are given for the rest of the life.

Surgery -

  • Endoscopic Surgery - This is done to open blocked ducts in the pancreas.

  • Pancreas Resection - The head of the pancreas is removed.

  • Total Pancreatectomy - The entire pancreas is surgically removed.

  • Autologous Pancreatic Islet Cell Transplantation (APICT) - After a total pancreatectomy, islet cells from the removed pancreas are injected into the portal vein of the liver. These cells produce insulin.

What Is the Diet to Be Followed for Pancreatitis?

If a person is suffering from acute or chronic pancreatitis, make sure they consume a diet rich in protein, low in animal fats, and rich in antioxidants.

Food items that should be included are-

  • Lean meat.

  • Beans.

  • Lentils.

  • Clear soup.

  • Blueberries.

  • Spinach.

  • Cherries.

  • Dairy replacements.

  • Whole grains.

  • Cherry tomatoes.

  • Cucumbers.

Food items that should be avoided:

  • Deep-fried foods.

  • Red meat.

  • Dairy products.

  • Butter and mayonnaise.

  • Sugary beverages.

How Is Pancreatitis Diagnosed?

If the doctor suspects pancreatitis, he or she might tell to perform the following tests:

  • Blood Test - To check levels of pancreatic enzymes.

  • Stool Test - To check the fat levels.

  • Computed Tomography Scan or Abdominal Ultrasound - To look for gallstones.

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging - To check any abnormalities of the pancreas and surrounding organs.

  • Endoscopic Ultrasound - To check pancreatic or bile duct blockage.

What Are the Complications of Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis can result in the following complications:

  • Makes the pancreas susceptible to viral or bacterial infections.

  • Type 1 diabetes.

  • Kidney failure.

  • Pseudocyst (collection of fluid and debris in the pancreas).

  • Breathing problems due to a drop in oxygen levels.

  • Malnutrition.

  • Increased risk for developing pancreatic cancer.

How Is Pancreatitis Prevented?

One can reduce the risk of pancreatitis by:

  • Limiting alcohol consumption.

  • Avoiding smoking.

  • Consuming a low-fat diet.

  • Exercising regularly.

  • Reducing weight, in case of being overweight.

  • Avoid going on crash diets.

Pancreatitis can be managed with a few alterations in lifestyle and by taking proper medications.


In summary, pancreatitis is a dangerous medical disorder marked by inflammation of the pancreas, a crucial organ in charge of manufacturing hormones and enzymes needed for digestion and blood sugar management. The illness can be acute or chronic, and there are several potential reasons, including gallstones, drinking alcohol, certain drugs, and underlying medical issues.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Does the Pain of Pancreatitis Feel Like?

First, the pain of pancreatitis starts in the upper abdomen, which may persist for a few days. Severe pain may occur, and it becomes constant just in the abdomen. This pain may reach the back and other areas too. While consuming food, the pain may be sudden and intense or begin as a mild pain that gets worse.


What Are the Warning Signs of Pancreatitis?

The sign and symptoms of pancreatitis are:
- Abdominal pain that radiates to the back.
- Upper abdominal pain.
- Fever.
- Abdominal pain that feels worse after eating.
- Nausea.
- Rapid pulse.
- Vomiting.
- Tenderness when touching the abdomen.


How Can You Care for Yourself at Home?

- Consume low-fat diet until the pancreas is healed.
- Eat bland foods and drink clear liquids until you feel better.
- Be safe with medicines.
- Do not drink alcohol.
- Get extra rest until you feel better.
- If the doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed.


What Home Remedy Helps Pancreatitis?

- Consume liquid diet foods such as soups, gelatin, or broth. Those foods allow the inflammation process to get in a better way.
- Stop all alcohol consumption.
- Over-the-counter pain medications may also help.


What Is the Most Common Cause of Pancreatitis?

Most of the pancreatitis cases (nearly 80%) are affected by the consumption of alcohol and gallstones' formation. The Single common cause of acute pancreatitis is gallstones' formation, and the occurrence of chronic pancreatitis is due to alcohol consumption.


What Foods Should Be Avoided With Pancreatitis?

Foods that are needed to avoid during pancreatitis are,
- Red meat.
- Fried foods.
- Organ meats.
- Fries and potato chips.
- Margarine and butter.
- Mayonnaise.
- Pastries and desserts with added sugars.
- Full-fat dairy.
- Beverages with added sugars.


How Dangerous Is Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis may range from mild to severe discomfort or life-threatening sickness. In severe cases, acute pancreatitis lead to serious tissue damage, bleeding, cysts, and infection. Severe pancreatitis can affect or harm other vital organs such as the kidneys, lungs, and heart.


What Foods Are Good for Pancreatitis?

The advisable and best food choices for people suffering from pancreatitis are vegetables, fruits, legumes, lean cuts of meat, nonfat/low-fat dairy, and whole grains. Healthy fats include seeds, olive oil, avocado, nuts, and fatty fish, maybe consumed with careful portion control.


What Is the Best Medicine for Pancreatitis?

The treatment for chronic pancreatitis include:
- Medication includes pain killers such as nonopioids. They might include Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen.
- It might also include mild opioids that do not relieve pain. Nonopioids are also recommended in some patients. If it is not helpful, mild opioids such as Codeine are given. Strong opioids such as Morphine can also be given.


How Long Does It Take to Recover From Pancreatitis?

Patients who are suffering from an acute type of pancreatitis are known to heal within a week. Patients can be discharged from the hospital after a week. In severe cases, the recovery from the treatment will take a long time. If there are any complications, then additional treatment might be required.
Dr. Vasavada Bhavin Bhupendra
Dr. Vasavada Bhavin Bhupendra

Surgical Gastroenterology


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