Pancreatitis

Also known as: acute pancreatitis, chronic pancreatitis, familial pancreatitis.

What is pancreatitis?

The pancreas is an abdominal organ found in the upper part of the abdomen which plays an important role in digestion and controlling the body’s blood sugar.

Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. It’s can be either acute and last just a few days or chronic and cause problems for many years.

What causes pancreatitis? 

In acute pancreatitis, a cause for the inflammation is often not found. Sometimes injury to the abdomen (from bicycle handlebar accidents or sports injury) or other problems like gallstones or infections may result in the release of pancreatic enzymes (substances that normally help with digestion) into the pancreatic tissue (and sometimes organs around the pancreas) causing the inflammation of acute pancreatitis. Certain antibiotics, anti seizure medications or chemotherapy may also cause acute pancreatic injury. Genetic or metabolic disorders may also play a role.

Chronic pancreatitis may be caused by genetic factors, repeated attacks of acute pancreatitis, and in association with other disorders (e.g. Cystic Fibrosis, blocked pancreatic drainage tubes, gallstones or immune system/ hormone gland abnormalities) or some medications.

What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?

 Acute symptoms include sudden severe abdominal pain, back pain, vomiting, and nausea and difficulty breathing (fever is rare). Small children may just be irritable and cry.  

Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include long lasting discomfort in the upper part of the abdomen and/or back which gets worse after food ingestion, nausea, vomiting/diarrhoea, and difficulty with food digestion resulting in weight loss, diabetes and pale/clay colored fatty stools that float.

What are pancreatitis care options? 

Acute pancreatitis is primarily managed with supportive care as there is no specific treatment that improves recovery. Severe cases may require hospitalization to ensure adequacy of fluid and food intake.

Chronic pancreatitis is treated with pancreatic enzymes to help with digestion, special diets/vitamins, medications to correct metallic problems  and depending on the cause, surgery


Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: 3/30/2018 9:16:22 AM

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