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What is pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas is inflamed. The pancreas is an organ that makes insulin. It also makes enzymes (digestive juices) that help your body digest food. Pancreatitis may be an acute (short-term) problem that happens only once. It may become a chronic (long-term) problem that comes and goes over time.

What causes pancreatitis?

Most pancreatitis is caused by alcohol or gallstones. Less common causes are certain medicines, an injury to the abdomen, some procedures, and infections. High levels of triglycerides (fats) and calcium may also cause pancreatitis.

What are the signs and symptoms of pancreatitis?

  • Severe burning, stabbing, or aching pain that starts in the top of your abdomen and spreads to your back
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdomen that is tender to the touch
  • Weight loss

How is pancreatitis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms. You will need to have blood drawn for tests. Your healthcare provider may do an ultrasound, CT scan, and x-rays of your abdomen and pancreas. Healthcare providers will use test results to learn why you have pancreatitis and to help them plan your treatment.

How is pancreatitis treated?

Treatment depends on the cause of your pancreatitis. You may need to stay in the hospital for treatment and more tests.

  • Medicines: You may need antibiotics if you have an infection in your pancreas. You may also need pain medicine to decrease pain.
  • Surgery: You may need to have surgery to remove your gallbladder if gallstones are causing your pancreatitis. You may need to have surgery to drain pockets of pus caused by an infection in your pancreas. You may need surgery to open up blocked ducts (tubes) that digestive juices (enzymes) flow through to get to the intestines.
  • Treatment for alcoholism: Do not drink any alcohol. If you need help, contact the following organization for information on how to quit drinking alcohol:
    • Alcoholics Anonymous
      Web Address:
  • Nutrition: You may be told to eat foods that are low in fat if you have chronic pancreatitis. This may be needed because damage to the pancreas prevents it from making enough enzymes needed to digest fat.

What are the risks of pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis may lead to tissue damage and infection inside the pancreas. It can cause bleeding and fluid leakage into the abdomen. This can lead to low blood pressure, and failure of other organs. Pancreatitis can be life-threatening.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have severe pain in your abdomen and you are vomiting.
  • You continue to lose weight.
  • Your skin or the whites of your eyes turn yellow.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have a fever.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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