What Are the Basics of Acute Pancreatitis?

What is acute pancreatitis?

Acute pancreatitis (AP) is a sudden inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), an organ located behind the stomach and near the small intestine.

AP occurs suddenly and causes pain in the upper abdominal (or epigastric) region. The pain often radiates to your back.

AP can also involve other organs and develop into chronic pancreatitis if one experiences continued episodes.

What are the symptoms of acute pancreatitis?

The predominant symptom of acute pancreatitis is severe epigastric pain (upper abdominal pain) radiating to the back in 50% of cases

Pain may vary depending on certain factors. These include:

  • pain within minutes of drinking or eating food
  • pain spreading from your abdomen to your back or left shoulder blade area
  • pain that lasts for several days at a time
  • pain when you lie on your back, more so than when sitting up

Other common symptoms and signs that may increase the pain and discomfort include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • fever
  • chills (shivering)
  • sweating
  • jaundice (yellow of the skin)
  • diarrhea
  • bloating
  • hemodynamic instability, including shock
  • tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
  • respiratory distress
  • peritonitis
  • hiccup

Seek immediate medical care whenever any of these symptoms are accompanied by abdominal pain.

What causes acute pancreatitis?

Acute pancreatitis can be attributed to direct causes or indirect causes. The former ones affect the pancreas itself, its tissues, or its ducts. While the latter ones result from diseases or conditions that originate somewhere else in your body.

Direct causes

Direct causes of acute pancreatitis include:

  • gallstones, which can lodge in the common bile duct and block the pancreatic duct, hence impairing fluid from flowing to and from the pancreas and causes damage.
  • sudden immune system attacks on the pancreas, or autoimmune pancreatitis
  • pancreatic or gallbladder damage from surgery or injury
  • excessive fats called triglycerides in your blood

Indirect causes

Indirect causes of acute pancreatitis include:

  • alcohol abuse
  • fibrosis, a serious condition that affects your lungs, liver, and pancreas
  • Kawasaki disease, a disease that occurs in children younger than 5 years old
  • Reye’s syndrome, a complication from certain viruses that can also affect the liver
  • viral infections like mumps and bacterial infections like mycoplasma
  • certain medications containing estrogen, corticosteroids, or certain antibiotics

How to treat acute pancreatitis?

Treatment options for a patient with acute pancreatitis consist of:

  • Lifestyle and diet change
  • Fluid replacement
  • Pain control
  • Bowel rest
  • Nutrition support
  • Antibiotics
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
  • Surgery

Talk to your doctor about treatment as soon as you’re diagnosed with acute pancreatitis to avoid complications.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.