Acute Pancreatitis


Pancreatitis inflames the pancreas, causing digestive enzymes to attack the tissue that produces them. Acute pancreatitis occurs soon after the pancreas becomes damaged by its own enzymes.

Causes

Most of the time, the enzymes produced by the pancreas are only active after they reach the small intestine, where they are needed to digest food. But when these enzymes somehow become active inside the pancreas, they eat (and digest) the tissue of the pancreas, causing swelling, bleeding (hemorrhage), and damage to the pancreas and its blood vessels.

Risk Factors

Acute pancreatitis affects men more often than women, with the following factors linked to the condition:

  • Certain diseases and surgeries
  • Lifestyle habits
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Genetics

Symptoms

  • Pain that worsens immediately after eating or drinking, especially high-fat foods
  • Pain that often spreads to the back or below the left shoulder blade, worsening when lying flat on back
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, nausea, vomiting or sweating
  • Digestive issues

Diagnostic Tests

  • Blood tests
  • Test to show the release of pancreatic enzymes
  • Abdominal CT scan
  • Abdominal MRI
  • Abdominal ultrasound

Treatment

It is recommended that all patients avoid the following:

  • Fatty foods
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol

A hospital stay may be necessary, accompanied by the following:

  • Pain medicines
  • Fluids given through a vein (IV)
  • Stopping food or fluid by mouth to limit the activity of the pancreas, and then slowly starting an oral diet
  • Inserting a tube through the nose or mouth to remove the contents of the stomach (nasogastric suctioning) may sometimes be done. The tube may stay in for 1 – 2 days, or sometimes for 1 – 2 weeks.

In some cases, therapy is needed to:

  • Drain fluid that has collected in or around the pancreas
  • Remove gallstones
  • Relieve blockages of the pancreatic duct

What is acute pancreatitis?

Acute pancreatitis is a gastrointestinal condition that occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed over a short period of time. Because the pancreas helps with digestion, its inflammation can cause unpleasant GI symptoms. The good news is that many acute pancreatitis sufferers will begin to show improvement within about a week – with no further problems. 

What causes acute pancreatitis?

Acute pancreatitis often results from gallstones or excessive alcohol consumption. In some cases, however, the cause is not easily identifiable.

Less common causes of acute pancreatitis include:

  • High blood fat or blood calcium levels
  • Injury or damage to the pancreas 
  • Medication side effects
  • Viruses like mumps or measles
  • The body’s immune response

Frequently Asked Questions



How long does acute pancreatitis last?
Acute pancreatitis symptoms typically improve within a week or so. Patients who have been hospitalized are often released after five to ten days. In severe cases, the road to recovery is longer and may require further treatment. 

How to treat acute pancreatitis? 
Lifestyle and diet changes can help alleviate symptoms and manage pain. Here at Charleston GI, our gastroenterologists recommend avoiding fatty foods, smoking and drinking alcohol. In some cases, a hospital stay is required, often involving IV fluids and pain medication. Treatment may also include draining the fluid in and around the pancreas, or removing gallstone of pancreatic duct blockages.

Can acute pancreatitis be cured?
No, there is no cure for pancreatitis. However, your GI specialist will likely recommend lifestyle changes and diet modifications to provide symptom relief. Medication may also help manage symptoms. 

Can you drink alcohol in moderation after acute pancreatitis?
Even if acute pancreatitis is not caused by alcohol abuse, our gastroenterologists agree that it is best to avoid drinking for at least six months. This allows your pancreas to recover. If pancreatitis is linked to alcohol, continue to abstain.

Does acute pancreatitis pain come and go?
Yes. Acute pancreatitis usually begins with upper abdominal pain that lasts for a few days. While some patients experience pain only in the abdomen, others experience pain that spreads to the back and other areas. It may be sudden and severe, or begin as a dull pain that intensifies when food is eaten. 

What is the difference between acute pancreatitis and chronic pancreatitis?
Both acute and chronic pancreatitis refer to the inflammation of the pancreas. Acute pancreatitis refers to an isolated episode, while chronic pancreatitis is a gastrointestinal condition that does not improve over time.

Can acute pancreatitis be fatal? 
Most patients with acute pancreatitis show improvement within a week and do not experience any further issues. In severe cases, however, complications may lead to more serious problems – and even death.

Can acute pancreatitis cause cancer?
Acute pancreatitis may increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer, with the highest rate of occurrence coming in the years immediately following an episode. In fact, research shows that the risk increases 20-fold in the first two years after an acute episode. People who were hospitalized with acute pancreatitis face twice the risk of pancreatic cancer compared to the general population – even 10 years after the episode.

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