What is pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is the redness and
swelling (inflammation) of the pancreas. This happens when digestive juices or enzymes
attack the pancreas.

The pancreas lies behind your stomach on the left side of your belly. It is close to the first part of your small intestine (the duodenum).

The pancreas is a gland. It does 2 main things:

  • It makes enzymes and sends them into your small intestine. These enzymes help break down food.
  • It makes the hormones insulin and
    glucagon, and sends them into your bloodstream. These hormones control your body’s
    blood sugar level.

Pancreatitis may be sudden (acute) or ongoing (chronic).

Acute pancreatitis

  • Is a sudden inflammation
  • Lasts for a short time
  • Lets the pancreas return to normal
    afterward. But repeated attacks of acute pancreatitis can lead to chronic
  • May cause serious problems or be deadly in severe cases

Chronic pancreatitis

  • Is a long-lasting inflammation that comes and goes over time
  • Causes permanent damage to the pancreas
  • Often causes scarring of pancreatic tissue
  • May cause the pancreas to stop making enzymes and insulin in severe cases

What causes pancreatitis?

The most common causes of pancreatitis include:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Lumps of solid material (gallstones) found in the gallbladder. Gallstones block the pancreatic duct so the enzymes can’t get out of the pancreas.

Other causes of pancreatitis include:

  • Belly injury or surgery
  • High levels of fat particles (triglycerides) in the blood
  • Very high levels of calcium in the blood
  • Certain medicines, such as estrogens, steroids, and thiazide diuretics
  • Infections, such as mumps, hepatitis A or B, or salmonella
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Tumors
  • Certain genetic defects
  • Congenital abnormalities in the pancreas
  • Trauma to the pancreas
  • Cigarette smoking

What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?

Each person’s symptoms may vary. Symptoms may include:

  • Severe belly pain that may spread to your back or chest (it may feel worse after you eat)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fever
  • Swelling and feeling sore or tender in your upper belly
  • Fluid buildup in your belly
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)

The symptoms of pancreatitis may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider to be sure.

How is pancreatitis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will look
at your past health. They will give you a physical exam. You may have some blood tests
done. You may also have some imaging tests including:

  • Belly X-ray. Makes images of internal tissues, bones, and
  • Ultrasound (sonography). Uses sound waves to see the
    internal organs of the belly. It also checks how blood is flowing through different
    blood vessels.
  • EUS (endoscopic ultrasound). This is an internal type of
    ultrasound done through a flexible tube (endoscope) inserted through the mouth while
    you are sleeping.
  • ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography).
    This is used to find and treat problems in your liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, and
    pancreas. It uses X-ray and a long, flexible tube with a light and camera at one end
    (an endoscope). The tube is put into your mouth and throat. It goes down your food
    pipe (esophagus), through your stomach, and into the first part of your small
    intestine (duodenum). A dye is put into your bile ducts through the tube. The dye
    lets the bile ducts be seen clearly on X-rays.
  • CT scan. This imaging test shows detailed images of any
    part of the body such as the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more
    detailed than regular X-rays.
  • MRCP (magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography). This
    uses MRI to make detailed images of your pancreas, gallbladder, and pancreatic and
    bile ducts. A dye is shot (injected) into your vein so that the images can be seen
    more clearly.