Learn more about Acute Pancreatitis

What’s Acute Pancreatitis

First you need to basically understand what the Pancreas is and what function it performs in the body.Pancreas is a digestive organ which is located deep within the abdomen, and lies obliquely behind the stomach and just in front of the spine. It’s a soft sponge like organ that has three major functions namely

  • Production of a digestive juice that helps in breakdown and digestion of food, after its preliminary breakdown in the stomach
  • Production and secretion of a hormone called insulin into the blood stream, this insulin plays a major role in maintaining normal blood levels of glucose.
  • It also produces other important hormones and proteins essential for the proper functioning of the body

Acute Pancreatitis is nothing but a potentially serious inflammation of the pancreas,that can range from a mild self limited disease to a highly complicated and potentially life threatening problem.

Causes of Acute Pancreatitis

The most common causes of acute pancreatitis

  • Alcohol use - Alcohol damages the pancreatic tissue and alters the microcirculation of the pancreas. The more the frequency of drinking alcohol, the more the risk of acute pancreatitis.
  • Gallstones - Gallstones block the pancreatic duct and this starts off the acute inflammation
  • Other causes of pancreatitis include
  • Medicines – steroids, drugs used for chemotherapy
  • Infections like measles , mumps
  • Hypertriglyceridemia - Excess triglyceride levels in blood
  • Hyperparathyroidism – leads to increased levels of calcium in blood
  • Trauma

Symptoms of Acute Pancreatitis

These are the following symptoms associated with an Acute Pancreatitis

  • Sudden severe upper abdominal pain is the most common symptom. It may a gradually worsening type and the pain usually radiates towards your spine or left shoulder blade.
  • The pain worsens with food intake.
  • Fever
  • Nausea/ Vomiting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Abdominal distension

Diagnosis of an Acute Pancreatitis

The typical symptoms, along with physical examination and few blood tests can diagnose acute pancreatitis. Your physician would also do other tests to support the diagnosis

Blood tests

Samples of your blood are taken and tested for enzymes like amylase and lipase. These are highly elevated in a case of acute pancreatitis.

Ultrasound abdomen 

This is usually done immediately after admission to detect gallstone disease, which is the most common cause of acute pancreatitis. It will also detect fluid collections associated with the disease.

Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)

It’s a non invasive procedure, where the patient is lightly sedated and made to lie down in a hollow cylinder like tube and scans are taken of the abdomen.

CT Scan abdomen 

Its taken during some stage of admission when the patient is not improving as expected and to assess the extent and severity of pancreatitis.


  • It depends on the severity of the inflammation. Sometimes the patient needs to be admitted in ICU and given adequate IV fluids along with bowel rest.
  • Endoscopy might be needed if gallstone disease is the cause of pancreatitis. And if gallstone disease is the cause of pancreatitis, you may need laparoscopic removal of the gall bladder once the pancreatitis settles down.
  • In case pancreatitis worsens during admission, imaging tests are done to look for the presence of dead tissue and associated infection. Open or laparoscopic surgery may be needed to clean the dead tissue in and around the pancreas.

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