Acute Pancreatitis

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Overview

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is a long, flat gland that sits tucked behind the stomach in the upper abdomen. The pancreas produces enzymes that help digestion and hormones that help regulate the way your body processes sugar (glucose).

Pancreatitis can occur as acute pancreatitis — meaning it appears suddenly and lasts for days. Some people develop chronic pancreatitis, which is pancreatitis that occurs over many years.

Symptoms

Symptoms of acute pancreatitis


Fever

Higher heart rate

Nausea and vomiting

Swollen and tender belly

Pain in the upper part of your belly that goes into your back. Eating may make it worse, especially foods high in fat.

Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis


The symptoms of chronic pancreatitis are similar to those of acute pancreatitis. But you may also have:

Constant pain in your upper belly that radiates to your back. This pain may be disabling.

Diarrhea and weight loss because your pancreas isn’t releasing enough enzymes to break down food

Upset stomach and vomiting

Causes

Pancreatitis occurs when digestive enzymes become activated while still in the pancreas, irritating the cells of your pancreas and causing inflammation.


With repeated bouts of acute pancreatitis, damage to the pancreas can occur and lead to chronic pancreatitis. Scar tissue may form in the pancreas, causing loss of function. A poorly functioning pancreas can cause digestion problems and diabetes.

Conditions that can lead to acute pancreatitis include:


Gallstones

Alcoholism

Certain medications

High triglyceride levels in the blood (hypertriglyceridemia)

High calcium levels in the blood (hypercalcemia), which may be caused by an overactive parathyroid gland (hyperparathyroidism)

Pancreatic cancer

Abdominal surgery

Cystic fibrosis

Infection

Injury to the abdomen

Obesity

Trauma

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), a procedure used to treat gallstones, also can lead to pancreatitis.

Sometimes, a cause for pancreatitis is never found. This is known as idiopathic pancreatitis.


Risk factors

Factors that increase your risk of pancreatitis include:


Excessive alcohol consumption. Research shows that heavy alcohol users (people who consume four to five drinks a day) are at increased risk of pancreatitis.

Cigarette smoking. Smokers are on average three times more likely to develop chronic pancreatitis, compared with nonsmokers. The good news is quitting smoking decreases your risk by about half.

Obesity. You're more likely to get pancreatitis if you're obese.

Diabetes. Having diabetes increases your risk of pancreatitis.

Family history of pancreatitis. The role of genetics is becoming increasingly recognized in chronic pancreatitis. If you have family members with the condition, your odds increase — especially when combined with other risk factors.

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Complications

What is the most common complication of acute pancreatitis?

The most common complication of acute pancreatitis (occurring in approximately 25% of patients, especially those with alcoholic chronic pancreatitis) is the collection of pancreatic juices outside of the normal boundaries of the ductal system called pseudocysts

Kidney failure. Acute pancreatitis may cause kidney failure, which can be treated with dialysis if the kidney failure is severe and persistent.

Breathing problems. ...

Infection. ...

Pseudocyst. ...

Malnutrition. ...

Diabetes. ...

Pancreatic cancer.

Prevention

Prevention

Acute pancreatitis is often caused by gallstones or drinking too much alcohol. A healthy lifestyle can reduce your chances of developing the condition.

Gallstones

The most effective way of preventing gallstones is by eating a balanced diet that includes at least 5 portions of fresh fruit and vegetables a day.

Your diet should also include wholegrains – found in wholemeal bread, oats and brown rice. This helps lower the amount of cholesterol in your body.

Because there seems to be a link between having high cholesterol and developing gallstones, you should avoid eating too many fatty foods with a high cholesterol content.

Being overweight also increases your chances of developing gallstones. Maintain a healthy weight by eating a balanced diet and doing regular exercise to reduce your risk of developing the condition.

See exercise, healthy eating and managing your weight for more information and advice.


Alcohol

You can reduce your risk of developing acute pancreatitis by cutting back on drinking alcohol. This helps to prevent your pancreas being damaged.

It's recommended that you:

don't drink more than 14 units a week

spread your drinking over 3 days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week

A unit of alcohol is equal to about half a pint of normal-strength lager or a pub measure (25ml) of spirits. A small (125ml) glass of wine (ABV 12%) or an alcopop is 1.5 units.

Remember, if you've had acute pancreatitis caused by drinking too much alcohol, you should avoid it completely.



Limit alcohol consumption. By drinking less (or not at all), you can help protect your pancreas from the toxic effects of alcohol and reduce your risk for pancreatitis.

Eat a heart-healthy diet. ...

Exercise regularly and lose excess weight. ...

Skip crash diets. ...

Don't smoke.