Pancreatitis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Discover the telltale signs of the common cold: runny nose, cough, sore throat, fever, body aches, headache, sneezing, fatigue, and stuffy nose. Get informed about this widespread illness.

Pancreatitis is when the pancreas swells up. This gland is found behind the stomach. It releases substances needed for digesting food, like digestive enzymes and hormones. It can happen suddenly (acute) or last a long time (chronic).1 Acute pancreatitis appears suddenly and can range from mild to severe pain. It can be life-threatening.2 Chronic pancreatitis is a long-lasting condition. It may follow an acute attack or from excessive alcohol use.1 The common signs are strong belly pain, fever, nausea, throwing up, and fast heartbeats.1 If not treated, pancreatitis can damage organs and lead to death. Treatment includes managing symptoms and stopping future episodes.

Key Takeaways

  • Pancreatitis is a serious condition that can occur in acute or chronic forms.
  • The main causes of pancreatitis include gallstones, alcohol abuse, and other factors like medications and infections.
  • Symptoms of pancreatitis can include severe abdominal pain, fever, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Treatment focuses on managing symptoms and addressing the underlying cause.
  • Preventive measures include limiting alcohol consumption, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding smoking.

Understanding Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is when the3 pancreas gets swollen and painful. The pancreas sits behind the stomach and close to the small intestine. It’s essential because it does two big things:3 releases strong digestive enzymes into the small intestine to help digest food;3 and sends the hormones insulin and glucagon into the blood to control sugar levels.

What is Pancreatitis?

3 This disease can be either acute, which means it comes suddenly, or chronic, which means it lasts a long time. In its acute form, pancreatitis causes a rapid swelling from mild to severe, threatening life.3 The chronic type leads to ongoing pain and inflammation, often after or due to excessive alcohol usage.

The Role of the Pancreas

The pancreas is vital for both digestion and hormone balance. It sends out enzymes into the gut to help digest food. At the same time, it produces insulin and glucagon to keep blood sugar stable.

Acute vs. Chronic Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis comes in two main types.3 Acute pancreatitis is the severe, sudden kind, from mild pain to life-threatening.3 Chronic pancreatitis, however, causes ongoing issues, often after acute episodes or alcohol abuse.

CharacteristicAcute PancreatitisChronic Pancreatitis
OnsetSuddenGradual, often following an acute episode
DurationShort-term, can resolve within days or weeksLong-lasting, can persist for years
SeverityRange from mild to severe, life-threateningTypically less severe than acute, but can lead to complications
Causes3 Gallstones, heavy alcohol use, genetic disorders, medications, infections, injury3 Heavy alcohol use, genetic disorders, blockages in the pancreatic duct, high lipid or calcium levels
Symptoms3 Severe abdominal pain, fever, nausea, vomiting, rapid heartbeat3 Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, greasy, foul-smelling stools

Symptoms of Pancreatitis

The main sign of pancreatitis is a bad abdominal pain. This pain starts high in the middle or left of your belly and might go to your back. It can worsen when you lie down, cough, move, or eat greasy foods.

Especially those high in fat.4

Abdominal Pain

Feeling hurt in the belly is a sign of acute or chronic pancreatitis. This pain often shows up in the top part of your belly and might spread to your back.3 The level of pain can vary, from a little sore to very bad pain.


Nausea and Vomiting

Feeling like you need to throw up and actually throwing up can happen with pancreatitis. The pancreas swelling up can mess with how well you digest food. That can make you feel very sick.3

Fever and Rapid Heart Rate

Pancreatitis might also make you run a fever and have a rapid heart rate. These signs often mean there’s an infection or something else really wrong.3

abdominal pain

Causes of Pancreatitis

The main reasons for pancreatitis are gallstones and drinking too much alcohol.3 Gallstones form from hardening digestive fluids in the gallbladder. They’re the top cause of sudden pancreatitis.4 These stones can close off the bile ducts, causing the pancreas to swell.


One of the biggest culprits for pancreatitis is when gallstones clog the ducts. This blockage leads to pancreas swelling.4

Alcohol Abuse

Heavy, ongoing drinking is a key contributor to chronic pancreatitis.3 Drinking four or five alcoholic drinks daily greatly raises the pancreatitis risk.4 People who smoke are three times likelier to get chronic pancreatitis than non-smokers.4

See also  Pancreatitis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

Other Causes

Besides gallstones and alcohol, pancreatitis can come from different sources. These include infections, abdominal injuries, and pancreatic cancer.3 ERCP and pancreas divisum are also potential triggers.5 Moreover, certain medicines, metabolic issues, autoimmune conditions, high triglycerides, and trauma can lead to pancreatitis.5 Sometimes, doctors can’t pinpoint a cause, seen in around 15% of sudden cases and 20-30% of lasting cases.5

What are the symptoms of the common cold?

The common cold shows up with a runny nose, cough, and a sore throat. You might also feel fever, body aches, and have a headache. Don’t forget about the sneezing, fatigue, and stuffy nose.6 Rhinoviruses cause a big part, about 50%, of colds. There are over 200 different viruses that can lead to a cold.6

6 Babies often catch 8 to 10 colds a year, especially before they turn 2. Typically, it takes 12 hours to 3 days to show cold symptoms after being around the virus. As children grow, they get fewer colds since their bodies get better at fighting these bugs. Infected people can spread a cold for up to 2 weeks, but they’re most contagious in the first 3 days of symptoms.6

Adults usually have 2 or 3 colds every year.7 Infants and young children, however, catch more. Most people get over a cold in 7 to 10 days. But if you smoke, your symptoms might hang around longer.7 Rhinoviruses are often behind colds. Factors that make you more likely to get a cold include being older, having a weak immune system, season, smoking, or being in crowded places.7 A cold might lead to ear infections, asthma getting worse, sinus problems, or even pneumonia or bronchitis in rare cases.7

common cold symptoms

Even though a cold is usually not serious, its symptoms are bothersome. Knowing what a cold looks like and its causes can help manage the sickness. It may also lead you to get help from a doctor if needed.

Diagnosing Pancreatitis

To diagnose pancreatitis, doctors start by talking with patients and doing a physical exam. They look for signs like belly pain and swelling.3 It’s very important to go to the hospital if you have bad belly pain, feel sick, have a fever, or look yellow. These could be signs of pancreatitis.3

Blood Tests

Blood tests are key for figuring out pancreatitis. These tests check for high levels of certain enzymes in your blood, like amylase and lipase.3 Doctors also use a special test called the secretin stimulation test to see how well your pancreas is working.2

Imaging Tests

Imaging scans, like CT scans and MRIs, give doctors a close look at your pancreas. They can find things like gallstones, swelling, and fluid buildup.3

Other Diagnostic Procedures

Sometimes, doctors might suggest more tests to learn about your pancreas in detail. These could include an ERCP or a biopsy.3 These tests make it possible to confirm if it’s pancreatitis and check for other issues causing your symptoms.

Treatment for Acute Pancreatitis

When people get hospitalized for acute pancreatitis, doctors focus on three main things. They work to manage pain, provide fluids through an IV, and ensure patients get the right nutrition. Acute pancreatitis causes many hospital visits in the U.S. each year – around 300,000.8 Worldwide, about 2.8 million people had this illness in 2019. It affects roughly 35 out of every 100,000 people.8 In the same year, around 115,053 died from acute pancreatitis globally, with a mortality rate of 1.4 per 100,000.8

Pain Management

To treat acute pancreatitis, doctors first aim to lessen pain. They might use opioid medicines like morphine or hydromorphone. These help with the severe stomach pain linked to this illness.3 A key sign of acute pancreatitis is upper stomach pain that can move to the back. It can be mild to severe and last for days.3

Intravenous Fluids

Getting the right amount of IV fluids is vital in acute pancreatitis treatment. It replaces fluids lost from vomiting or not being able to eat. IV fluids also thin out digestive enzymes in the belly. This can reduce damage. Plus, they stabilize blood pressure and support organ function.3 Other symptoms can include fever, nausea, and a swollen belly.3

See also  Pancreatitis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

Nutritional Support

Patient’s need proper nutrients while dealing with acute pancreatitis. Often, they might only have clear liquids or enteral nutrition (tube feeding). This helps give the pancreas a break and stops further inflammation. If their gut can’t handle food, they might need parenteral nutrition, given through IV.3 Serious signs needing immediate attention include strong stomach pain, nausea, fever, or a fast heartbeat.3

Treatment for Chronic Pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis is complex and tough. It needs a many-sided treatment. The main aims are pain control, replacing digestive enzymes, and handling any extra problems. The approach to managing this condition involves several key strategies.

Pain Management Strategies

Chronic pancreatitis leads to severe belly pain that comes back often.9 Doctors deal with this pain in different ways. They might give medicines like opioids, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants. Sometimes, they use special procedures to numb the pain, like nerve blocks.9

Enzyme Replacement Therapy

In chronic pancreatitis, the body can’t make enough enzymes to digest food. This is called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.9 Doctors might prescribe enzyme supplements. These help the body digest food better and prevent malnutrition.

Dietary Modifications

Changing what you eat is key in managing this condition. A diet low in fat and protein lessens the pancreas’ work. This reduces the chance of more inflammation. Besides, quitting alcohol is a must. It’s a main cause of this issue. If there are other conditions like diabetes, the diet will be adjusted too.910

Dietary RecommendationRationale
Low-fat, low-protein dietReduces the workload on the pancreas and minimizes inflammation.
Alcohol cessationAddresses the leading cause of chronic pancreatitis.
Diabetes managementHelps control blood sugar levels and prevent complications.

These care methods aim to reduce symptoms of chronic pancreatitis. They also try to stop further health issues. The goal is to make life better for patients with this tough issue.

Complications of Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis, if severe or untreated, can have serious outcomes. These include pancreatic necrosis, pseudocysts, and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.

Pancreatic Necrosis

Acute pancreatitis can destroy pancreatic tissue, leading to necrosis.4This damages the pancreas, making it prone to infection by bacteria. In severe cases, surgery might be necessary to remove the damaged tissue. This step helps stop the infection from spreading and prevent further issues.


Long-term inflammation from acute attacks can form pseudocysts.4 If these grow too large, they can burst, causing internal bleeding or infection. Treatment could involve intensive care or surgery.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

Pancreatitis can also hinder the pancreas from making enough digestive enzymes, known as EPI.4 This leads to malnutrition, weight loss, and diarrhea since the body can’t absorb nutrients as needed.

Pancreatitis is also tied to a higher risk of diabetes and pancreatic cancer.4 Controlling and preventing pancreatitis is key to avoid these severe health problems.

Prevention of Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is a serious health issue that can be life-threatening. But, there are several steps you can take to prevent it. By knowing and dealing with key risk factors, like drinking alcohol, keeping a healthy weight, and not smoking, you can lower the chances of pancreatitis.

Limiting Alcohol Consumption

Limiting how much you drink is a major way to prevent pancreatitis.5 Drinking heavily, which means four or more drinks a day, increases the risk a lot. So, it’s key to cut down on alcohol if you’ve had pancreatitis before or if it runs in your family.

Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Staying at a healthy weight is crucial in pancreatitis prevention.5 Being obese, with a BMI of 30 or more, can make you more likely to get the disease. Eating balanced, healthy meals and being active can keep your weight in check. This reduces the risk of pancreatitis.

Avoiding Smoking

Smoking and vaping can also up your chances of pancreatitis.5 Quitting or not starting smoking helps you stay healthier. It significantly decreases the risk of this serious disease.

Dealing with these risk factors can help you prevent pancreatitis. It’s an essential step in taking care of your health.51

Lifestyle Modifications for Pancreatitis Patients

After treatment, pancreatitis patients should make changes to avoid future issues. They should watch what they eat, drink plenty of water, and manage stress.

See also  Pancreatitis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

Dietary Changes

A good diet for pancreatitis includes lots of protein from lean meats. It should be low in animal fats and sugars.11 For those with mild cases, changing your diet and lifestyle can help a lot.11 The benefits of diet changes depends on whether the pancreatitis is recent or ongoing.11

Focusing on veggies, fruits, and whole grains can lower the chance of getting gallstones or high triglycerides. These are common causes of the disease.11 Medium-chain triglycerides from certain oils can help with nutrient absorption in chronic cases.11 Avoiding high-fat foods and sugars keeps triglyceride levels down, reducing the risk of pancreatitis.11 This type of diet also lowers the risk of getting pancreatic cancer.11

It’s important to follow dietary guidelines after a pancreatitis episode.11 Eating smaller meals and adding MCT oils to your diet can make digestion easier for the pancreas.11 It’s crucial to keep daily fat intake under 30 grams and to not drink alcohol. This helps with recovery.11

Following a Mediterranean diet is recommended for mild cases of acute pancreatitis.11 Also, controlling what you eat is key for preventing more stress on your pancreas, no matter the situation.11

Staying Hydrated

For pancreatitis patients, drinking enough water is vital. It helps lower inflammation and aids the body in healing.

Stress Management

Keeping stress in check is very important for pancreatitis sufferers. Too much stress can make symptoms worse and even cause flare-ups.11 Meditation, yoga, and other relaxation methods are good for managing stress. They improve general health too.


In short, pancreatitis is a severe issue that can be life-threatening. It’s when the pancreas gets inflamed, which can happen quickly or over time. Symptoms typically include strong stomach pain, a fever, feeling sick, throwing up, and a fast heartbeat.12

If not treated, pancreatitis can lead to organ failure and death. Doctors aim to manage symptoms, deal with the main cause, and stop it from happening again. They diagnose it by doing blood and imaging tests, and other checks.13

To prevent pancreatitis, it’s important to cut down on alcohol, keep a healthy weight, and not smoke. Those who’ve had it should change their diet, drink plenty of water, and find ways to lower stress. These steps can help recovery and reduce the risk of another attack.12 By knowing about its causes, symptoms, and how to treat it, people can safeguard their health.


What is pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is a serious disease that makes the pancreas swollen. This organ is just behind your stomach. It helps in digestion, and also regulates blood sugar with hormones.

What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?

People with pancreatitis feel a strong pain in their belly. They might also get a fever, feel sick, throw up, and have a fast heartbeat.

What causes pancreatitis?

Gallstones and drinking too much alcohol are the top causes of pancreatitis.

What are the symptoms of the common cold?

The cold brings a runny nose, a cough, and a sore throat. You might also have a fever, body pains, and feel tired.

How is pancreatitis diagnosed?

Doctors start with your medical history and a physical check-up to diagnose pancreatitis. They look for belly pain and other signs.

How is acute pancreatitis treated?

People with acute pancreatitis need to stay in the hospital first. This is to manage the pain and prevent any bad outcomes.

How is chronic pancreatitis treated?

For chronic pancreatitis, the focus is on managing the pain. Doctors will also help replace the digestive enzymes you lose and treat any complications.

What are the potential complications of pancreatitis?

If it’s not treated or it’s very bad, pancreatitis can cause organ failure or death.

How can pancreatitis be prevented?

To avoid pancreatitis, don’t drink too much, stay at a healthy weight, and quit smoking.

What lifestyle changes can help patients with pancreatitis?

After it’s treated, eat better, keep hydrated, and lower your stress to stay well and avoid more attacks.

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