Acute pancreatitis (patient information)

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Acute pancreatitis


What are the symptoms?

What are the causes?

Who is at highest risk?


When to seek urgent medical care?

Treatment options

Where to find medical care for Acute pancreatitis?


What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

Possible complications

Acute pancreatitis On the Web

Ongoing Trials at Clinical

Images of Acute pancreatitis

Videos on Acute pancreatitis

FDA on Acute pancreatitis

CDC on Acute pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis in the news

Blogs on Acute pancreatitis

Directions to Hospitals Treating Acute pancreatitis

Risk calculators and risk factors for Acute pancreatitis

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; 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.
  • Anxiety
  • Fever
  • Mild jaundice
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating

Other symptoms that may occur with this disease:

Diseases with similar symptoms include :

What are the causes of Acute pancreatitis?

The main causes of acute pancreatitis in adults are:

Other causes include:

Acute pancreatitis may also be caused by:

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:

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:

Test that show inflammation of the pancreas:

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 options

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:

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:

It is common for the condition to return.

Possible complications


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