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Acute pancreatitis

Contents of this page:


Digestive system
Digestive system
Endocrine glands
Endocrine glands
Pancreatitis, acute - CT scan
Pancreatitis, acute - CT scan

Definition    Return to top

Acute pancreatitis is swelling (inflammation) of the pancreas. The pancreas is a gland located behind the stomach. It releases digestive enzymes and the hormones insulin and glucagon.

Causes    Return to top

The main causes of acute pancreatitis in adults are:

Other causes include:

Acute pancreatitis may also be caused by:

What exactly causes pancreatitis is not well known. It is thought that enzymes the pancreas normally releases in an inactive form become activated inside the pancreas and start to digest the pancreatic tissue. This process is called autodigestion. It causes swelling, bleeding (hemorrhage), and damage to the blood vessels.

The disease affects men more often than women. Alcohol abuse is an important risk factor.

In children, this disorder may be associated with:

Symptoms    Return to top

Other symptoms that may occur with this disease:

Exams and Tests    Return to top

An examination may show:

Tests that show release of pancreatic enzymes:

Test that show inflammation of the pancreas:

Other blood tests:

Treatment    Return to top

Treatment is aimed at supportive measures, such as:

Occasionally a tube will be inserted through the nose or mouth to remove the contents of the stomach (nasogastric suctioning). This may be done if there is persistent vomiting or severe pain, or if a paralytic ileus develops.

Treating the condition that caused the problem can prevent recurrent attacks.

In some cases, radiologic or endoscopic therapy is needed to:

In the most severe cases, surgery is necessary to remove dead, infected pancreatic tissue.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

Most cases go away in a week. However, some cases develop into a life-threatening illness.

The death rate is high with:

It is common for the condition to return.

Possible Complications    Return to top

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Call your provider if:

Prevention    Return to top

To protect against acute pancreatitis, prevent the disorders that cause it:

If you develop acute pancreatitis as a result of alcohol use, avoid all alcohol in the future. If you develop acute pancreatitis as a result of a medication, avoid the medication in the future.

References    Return to top

Banks PA, Freeman ML; Practice Parameters Committee of the American College of Gastroenterology. Practice guidelines in acute pancreatitis. Am J Gastroenterol. 2006 Oct;101(10):2379-400.

Frossard JL, Steer ML, Pastor CM. Acute pancreatitis. Lancet. 2008;371:143-152.

Update Date: 5/27/2008

Updated by: Christian Stone, MD, Division of Gastroenterology, Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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