Pancreatitis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

Pancreatitis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options. Learn about the signs, risk factors, and available treatments for this inflammatory condition of the pancreas.

Pancreatitis is when the pancreas gets inflamed. This organ is a flat gland behind your stomach. It helps with digestion and controls blood sugar. You might get it suddenly, which we call acute, or it can develop over time, known as chronic.1

Key Takeaways:

  • Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, crucial for digestion and managing blood sugar.
  • This condition can show up suddenly or develop over time.
  • The main causes are gallstones and heavy alcohol use, making up most cases.1
  • It can lead to severe problems like organ failure and a higher chance of pancreatic cancer.1
  • Finding and treating pancreatitis early is important to avoid serious damage and issues.1

Understanding Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is when the pancreas gets inflamed. It’s a crucial organ behind our stomach. The pancreas helps break down food and controls blood sugar.2 Sometimes, it’s sudden and goes away quickly (acute form). Other times, it’s a slow build-up (chronic form).3 With chronic pancreatitis, the pancreas damage can keep getting worse.2

What is Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, a vital digestive organ. It makes enzymes for breaking down food and controls blood sugar.2 Knowing about this condition is key to treating it well and avoiding problems.

Acute vs. Chronic Pancreatitis

There are two types: acute and chronic.3 The acute kind starts suddenly but often gets better quickly. Chronic pancreatitis is ongoing and can damage the pancreas more over time.2 Learning the difference helps in choosing the right care and check-up plans.

Symptoms of Pancreatitis

The main sign of pancreatitis is bad stomach pain.2 With acute pancreatitis, the pain can be really hurtful and sharp. Your stomach might also hurt when touched.
Chronic pancreatitis, though, brings on pain that’s more bearable but doesn’t fully go away. This pain feels worse when you’re lying down, coughing, moving a lot, or eating heavy meals. It feels somewhat better when you’re sitting, leaning forward, or eating light.

Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain is the key sign of pancreatitis. It can be a light discomfort or a strong, back-aching pain. The ache is either constant or it can suddenly spike.

Additional Symptoms of Acute Pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis also shows up with nausea, vomiting, fever, and a fast heartbeat.2 Really bad cases can harm your kidneys, needing dialysis,2 and cause you to struggle to breathe. This leads to low oxygen in your blood.2 Plus, infections might happen, demanding hard treatment like cutting out bad tissue.2

Symptoms of Chronic Pancreatitis

With chronic pancreatitis, pain can come and go, and it can also spread to the back.2 You may lose weight, become malnourished, and get diabetes because the pancreas can’t make enough insulin.2 Chronic pancreatitis makes you more likely to get pancreatic cancer. So, it’s crucial to get checked regularly by your doctor.1

pancreatitis symptoms

Causes of Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis has several causes. The main ones are gallstones and heavy drinking. These account for about 80% of cases.2


Gallstones, solid deposits in the gallbladder, often cause pancreatitis. They can block the bile duct. This blockage forces pancreatic enzymes back up, leading to inflammation.2

Alcohol Use

Excessive alcohol use is a key factor in developing pancreatitis. Drinking four or five drinks a day greatly ups your risk.2 It can also harm the pancreas long-term, causing chronic pancreatitis.3

Other Causes

Besides gallstones and alcohol, other things can trigger pancreatitis. This includes high blood levels of triglycerides or calcium, certain drugs, infections, and trauma. Sometimes, the cause is unknown (idiopathic pancreatitis).23

Knowing the causes is crucial for treating pancreatitis. Addressing these issues can cut your risk and prevent severe problems.23

See also  Pancreatitis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Risk Factors for Pancreatitis

There are many things that can make pancreatitis more likely. These are some:

Excessive alcohol use: Drinking too much can up your chances of getting pancreatitis. Research shows four or five drinks daily pose a big risk.2

Smoking: Smokers face three times the risk of chronic pancreatitis than nonsmokers.2

Obesity: If your body mass index (BMI) is 30 or more, your pancreatitis risk goes up.2

Diabetes: People with diabetes have a higher chance of also getting pancreatitis.2

Family history: If others in your family have had pancreatitis, it can put you at a higher risk. Especially if you have other risks too.2

Pancreatitis Risk Factors

Knowing and managing these risks might prevent pancreatitis. Regular health checks and a healthy lifestyle are key to lowering your risks.

Diagnosing Pancreatitis

Your doctor will first talk to you about your symptoms and health. They will then do a physical exam. This includes checking for pain in your abdomen.4 Next, based on what they find, they might suggest some tests to confirm pancreatitis.

Blood Tests

Blood exams are key in pancreatitis diagnosis. They check the pancreas, amylase, and lipase levels. If these are high, it could mean you have pancreatitis.

The tests also look for:5

  • High glucose levels
  • High lipid levels
  • Infection signs
  • Possible pancreatic cancer

Imaging Tests

Imaging is very important.4 Ultrasounds can spot gallstones and pancreas inflammation.45 CT scans give detailed pancreas and gallbladder images. They help find pancreatitis causes like gallstones or cancer.5

MRI looks for abnormalities in organs and ducts.4 MRCP, a special MRI, detects pancreatitis causes without x-rays.5

Other Diagnostic Procedures

EUS helps see the pancreas using a tube and ultrasound. It’s good for checking gallstones, cancer, and blockages.5

The PFT checks how the pancreas reacts to secretin. This test is specialized and not everywhere in the US.5

ERCP can remove gallstones and diagnose pancreatitis.4 Surgery to remove the gallbladder may be needed if gallstones caused it.4

Treatment Options for Acute Pancreatitis

The first treatment step for acute pancreatitis often means staying in the hospital. This aims to control symptoms and manage any issues. It involves4 easing pain, giving fluids through a vein, offering proper nutrition, and treating the root causes, such as gallstones or heavy drinking.

Pain Management

Dealing with pain is key in acute pancreatitis. Doctors can provide medicines to help. Additionally,4 trying out meditation, doing relaxation exercises, practicing yoga, or getting acupuncture might relieve discomfort for some.

Intravenous Fluids

Those with acute pancreatitis often need IV fluids. This is to prevent dehydration and keep the body’s organs working well.6 Studies have looked at different fluids used for severe pancreatitis care, such as lactated Ringer’s solution and saline.

Nutritional Support

Good nutrition is vital during recovery. Health teams might suggest feeding through a tube or IV.6 Studies have checked whether IV feedings or those placed directly in the stomach work better for people with severe acute pancreatitis.

Treating Underlying Causes

4 If pancreatitis is due to gallstones, procedures to clear the bile ducts or remove the gallbladder might help. For those whose pancreatitis comes from drinking, stopping alcohol is crucial. Getting help through therapy, group support, or medications can support staying away from alcohol.

Treatment Options for Chronic Pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis brings serious, ongoing pain.4 Doctors use many ways to help with this pain.4

Pain Management

Analgesics, or painkillers, are key for those suffering from chronic pancreatitis.7 For severe cases, a Celiac Nerve Block might be advised. It aims to dull the pain.7 Also, procedures like Endoscopic Pancreatic Sphincterotomy can be very effective.7

See also  Pancreatitis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Enzyme Supplements

For diarrhea and weight loss, enzyme therapy is often recommended.7 But a study of 10 trials with 361 people showed this therapy doesn’t lessen pain.8

Dietary Changes

A high-protein, high-calorie diet is given to those who are malnourished.7 To help the dehydration pancreatitis can cause, more water intake is advised.4

Surgeries might be needed too, like the Whipple or Puestow Procedure, in severe cases.7 For some with pseudocysts, endoscopic drainage is an option. It offers pain relief and has lower risks than surgery.8

Complications of Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis can cause serious issues needing fast medical help. Knowing about these problems helps treat pancreatitis well.

Acute Pancreatitis Complications

Acute pancreatitis harms the pancreas and can be life-threatening. It often leads to necrosis, infection, and shocks like septic shock.1 A fifth of these cases are so bad they have severe, sometimes deadly, outcomes.1

Chronic Pancreatitis Complications

Chronic pancreatitis’s long-term effects are just as serious. They can lead to problems eating, low blood sugar, and even pancreatic cancer.1 Though these issues grow slowly, they can cause major health problems if not treated.1

Being proactive and watching closely can lessen pancreatitis’s worst effects. Spotting it early and treating it well can make a big difference.

Lifestyle and Home Remedies

Once you’re out of the hospital, you should adjust your lifestyle to recover fully.9 Avoiding alcohol and cutting down on caffeine is important. So is eating a low-fat diet and keeping a healthy weight.9

Alcohol and Smoking Cessation

Too much alcohol is a big reason for pancreatitis, whether it’s short-term or long-term.9 If alcohol is the main cause, look into programs that help cut back.4 And, stopping smoking lowers your pancreatitis risk.

Low-Fat Diet

For people with chronic pancreatitis, limiting fats to 30-50 grams a day is key.9 They should eat small meals often. This plan takes pressure off the pancreas and lowers flare-up chances.


Being well-hydrated is essential for pancreatitis patients. They should drink lots of water and clear fluids.9 This helps the body heal and get rid of toxins, especially after a sudden episode.

Alternative Therapies for Pain Management

Alternative therapies can’t cure pancreatitis, but some might help manage the pain.10 Yoga can boost your life quality and ease stress and mood changes. It might decrease alcohol use and improve appetite in chronic pancreatitis.10 Therapeutic Touch focuses on energy balance and healing. It aims to manage pain by improving energy flow.10

Practicing meditation and relaxation can also ease pancreatitis pain. A 2017 study tested acupuncture for pain relief and found some positive results.11 The use of extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy in chronic pancreatitis management was investigated in 2021.11

Always talk to your doctor about any alternative therapies you want to try. They can offer advice on safe and helpful methods that fit with your treatment. A study from 2023 highlighted the need for a wide-ranging pain approach in chronic pancreatitis.11

Alternative TherapyPotential Benefits
YogaImproved quality of life, stress reduction, mood enhancement, reduced alcohol dependence, and appetite regulation10
Therapeutic TouchBalancing energy flow and promoting healing for pain management10
Meditation and RelaxationEffective for managing pancreatitis-related pain
AcupunctureTested for pain relief in chronic pancreatitis11
Extracorporeal Shock Wave LithotripsyExplored as a management approach for chronic pancreatitis11

While alternative therapies might help, they’re not the only answer. Always work closely with your healthcare team on a well-rounded plan to address your pancreatitis and pain.

See also  Pancreatitis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Pancreatitis: Early Detection and Prevention

Early detection and prevention of pancreatitis are key to avoiding severe problems.4 Doctors use blood tests to check how well the immune system and pancreas work. Imaging tests, like ultrasound and CT scans, can spot issues such as gallstones. Stool tests are used to see if you’re absorbing nutrients well.

12 Data from across the globe help doctors create guidelines to diagnose and manage pancreatitis.12 Following these guidelines helps healthcare workers treat the condition well.

13 It’s important to screen for pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. Quitting smoking can greatly lower your pancreatic cancer risk in the future.13 Being overweight and having metabolic problems raise your odds of pancreatic cancer. So, managing these issues is vital.

Knowing about diagnostic tools and following guidelines can help anyone take early steps against pancreatitis. Quit smoking and maintain a healthy weight are big steps. Doing so lowers your chance of getting pancreatic cancer and other serious issues.


Pancreatitis is a serious problem needing quick medical help. It’s vital to know the symptoms, causes, and how it can be treated.14

In the Western world, more people are getting pancreatitis. Yet, fewer are dying from it. This drop in deaths shows that catching the disease early and preventing it helps a lot.15

People can lower pancreatitis’s effects by changing their habits and seeing the doctor when needed. Experts are always getting better at treating it. This means finding it early and starting treatment fast is very important.15


What is pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is when the pancreas becomes inflamed. This is a gland behind your stomach. It’s vital for helping your body digest food and control blood sugar.

What are the types of pancreatitis?

There are two types: acute and chronic. Acute appears suddenly and lasts a short time. Chronic is long-term and the damage can grow over time.

What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?

The key symptom is abdominal pain. This pain can be deep and sharp in acute pancreatitis. In the chronic condition, the pain may come and go but never fully disappears.

What are the leading causes of pancreatitis?

Gallstones and heavy drinking cause about 80% of all cases.

What are the risk factors for developing pancreatitis?

Risk factors include too much alcohol or smoking, being obese, having diabetes, and a family history of it.

How is pancreatitis diagnosed?

Doctors start with questions about symptoms and history, then do a physical exam. They might recommend blood tests, scans, or other checks to confirm pancreatitis.

How is acute pancreatitis treated?

Initial treatment is in a hospital. It includes managing pain, fluids through IV, and nutrition support. Underlying causes are also addressed.

How is chronic pancreatitis treated?

Chronic pancreatitis treatment may involve managing pain, taking enzyme supplements, changing diet, and dealing with any complications.

What are the potential complications of pancreatitis?

It can lead to organ failure, malnutrition, and a higher chance of getting pancreatic cancer.

What lifestyle changes can help manage pancreatitis?

Quitting alcohol and smoking is crucial. A low-fat diet, and lots of water. Plus, meditation and acupuncture might help handle the chronic pain.

How can pancreatitis be detected and prevented early?

Early detection is key to preventing complications. Regular check-ups and watching for risk factors are important. Seek medical help fast if you notice any worrying symptoms.

Source Links