Pancreatitis is a condition that occurs when the pancreas, an organ behind the stomach, becomes swollen and painful. It can be acute or chronic. Acute pancreatitis occurs as one sudden episode, while chronic means ongoing or repeated bouts of pancreatitis in which there is permanent damage to the pancreas.
Click on the statements/questions below to reveal the answers to the causes, symtoms and signs of this particular disease.
The causes of acute pancreatitis are not completely understood, but studies indicate that the two leading causes may be:
- gallstones that block the flow of pancreatic secretions into the intestines, causing problems in the pancreas.
- drinking too much alcohol.
Less frequent causes of acute pancreatitis include:
- damage from disease in nearby organs, such as the stomach or the presence of duodenal ulcers.
- bruising during surgery for nearby organs.
- injury, such as a blow to the stomach.
- side effects of some medications.
- very high levels of blood fats (triglycerides).
The primary symptom is severe pain in the middle of your upper abdomen. The pain:
- oftens occurs 12–24 hours after a large meal or heavy drinking.
- spreads to your back and chest (however, if you suspect a heart attack, call 911).
- is steady and sharp.
- gets worse when you move.
- feels better when you sit or lean forward.
- usually makes you vomit.
Other symptoms may include fever and bloating.
After taking a medical history (particularly about how much alcohol you drink and if you have gallstones), listening to you describe your symptoms and a general medical exam, your physician may order one or more of the following tests:
- blood tests
- urine tests
- X-rays of your abdomen and chest
- ultrasound exam of the pancreas and gallbladder
- CT scan of the pancreas
In most cases, you will be admitted to the hospital where treatments typically include the following:
- You will be told to not eat or drink anything until the abdominal pain stops.
- You will be given intravenous fluids through your vein (IV fluids).
- A tube may be passed through your nose down into your stomach to remove fluids and help prevent nausea, vomiting and bloating. This is called nasogastric suction.
- You may be required to stop taking some of your current medications.
- A narcotic drug or other pain reliever is likely to be prescribed for your abdominal pain. Other drugs may be prescribed also.
- If you have gallstones, they may be removed while in the hospital with the intention of preventing another pancreatitis attack.
Pancreatitis can recur and become an ongoing problem. There are several things you can do to help prevent further attacks:
- Avoid drinking alcohol if you are advised to do so by your physician.
- Follow the diet recommended by your healthcare provider.
- Follow your doctor’s recommendations for keeping your blood fats (triglycerides) at a healthy level.
- Follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations for exercise.