Acute Pancreatitis

ExitCare ImageAcute pancreatitis is a disease in which the pancreas becomes suddenly inflamed. The pancreas is a large gland located behind your stomach. The pancreas produces enzymes that help digest food. The pancreas also releases the hormones glucagon and insulin that help regulate blood sugar. Damage to the pancreas occurs when the digestive enzymes from the pancreas are activated and begin attacking the pancreas before being released into the intestine. Most acute attacks last a couple of days and can cause serious complications. Some people become dehydrated and develop low blood pressure. In severe cases, bleeding into the pancreas can lead to shock and can be life-threatening. The lungs, heart, and kidneys may fail.

CAUSES

Pancreatitis can happen to anyone. In some cases, the cause is unknown. Most cases are caused by:

  • Alcohol abuse.

  • Gallstones.

Other less common causes are:

  • Certain medicines.

  • Exposure to certain chemicals.

  • Infection.

  • Damage caused by an accident (trauma).

  • Abdominal surgery.

SYMPTOMS

  • Pain in the upper abdomen that may radiate to the back.

  • Tenderness and swelling of the abdomen.

  • Nausea and vomiting.

DIAGNOSIS

Your caregiver will perform a physical exam. Blood and stool tests may be done to confirm the diagnosis. Imaging tests may also be done, such as X-rays, CT scans, or an ultrasound of the abdomen.

TREATMENT

Treatment usually requires a stay in the hospital. Treatment may include:

  • Pain medicine.

  • Fluid replacement through an intravenous line (IV).

  • Placing a tube in the stomach to remove stomach contents and control vomiting.

  • Not eating for 3 or 4 days. This gives your pancreas a rest, because enzymes are not being produced that can cause further damage.

  • Antibiotic medicines if your condition is caused by an infection.

  • Surgery of the pancreas or gallbladder.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Follow the diet advised by your caregiver. This may involve avoiding alcohol and decreasing the amount of fat in your diet.

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals. This reduces the amount of digestive juices the pancreas produces.

  • Drink enough fluids to keep your urine clear or pale yellow.

  • Only take over-the-counter or prescription medicines as directed by your caregiver.

  • Avoid drinking alcohol if it caused your condition.

  • Do not smoke.

  • Get plenty of rest.

  • Check your blood sugar at home as directed by your caregiver.

  • Keep all follow-up appointments as directed by your caregiver.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You do not recover as quickly as expected.

  • You develop new or worsening symptoms.

  • You have persistent pain, weakness, or nausea.

  • You recover and then have another episode of pain.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You are unable to eat or keep fluids down.

  • Your pain becomes severe.

  • You have a fever or persistent symptoms for more than 2 to 3 days.

  • You have a fever and your symptoms suddenly get worse.

  • Your skin or the white part of your eyes turn yellow (jaundice).

  • You develop vomiting.

  • You feel dizzy, or you faint.

  • Your blood sugar is high (over 300 mg/dL).

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.