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Pancreatitis

WHAT IS PANCREATITIS?

Pancreatitis is the redness and swelling (inflammation) of the pancreas caused by digestive juices or enzymes attacking the pancreas.

The condition may be sudden (acute) or ongoing (chronic). Acute pancreatitis is a sudden inflammation that lasts for a short period of time.  Chronic pancreatitis is a long-lasting inflammation that comes and goes over time.

At Loma Linda University Health, we treat more pancreatic disorders than any other center in the region.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF PANCREATITIS?

The symptoms of pancreatitis may vary. They may include:

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

The symptoms of pancreatitis may look like other health problems. These symptoms should always be evaluated by your healthcare provider to be sure.

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 cannot leave 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 medications such as estrogens, steroids, and thiazide diuretics
  • Infections, such as mumps, hepatitis A or B, or salmonella
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • A tumor
  • Certain genetic defects
  • Congenital abnormalities in the pancreas
  • Trauma to the pancreas
  • Cigarette smoking
  • After having a procedure called an ERCP
  • Hereditary causes
  • Sometimes the cause is unknown

HOW IS PANCREATITIS DIAGNOSED?

Pancreatitis is diagnosed by:

  • Medical history
  • A physical exam
  • Blood tests
  • Imaging studies

Loma Linda University Health offers a full range of diagnostic options, including:

  • Blood tests, which may reveal elevated pancreatic enzymes
  • Abdominal x-rays, which provide images of internal tissues, bones, and organs  
  • Ultrasound to see the internal organs of the belly and check how blood is flowing through different blood vessels
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)  
  • Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) to make detailed images of your pancreas, gallbladder, and the pancreas and biliary ducts
  • Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS) to evaluate the pancreas during sedation

HOW IS PANCREATITIS TREATED?

The first method of treatment is to rest the pancreas and allow it to heal. This may require hospitalization for a few days. Intravenous (IV) fluids, pain medication, and antibiotics will be given. If the pancreatitis is mild, a clear liquid diet or a low-fat diet may be allowed. If the pancreatitis is severe, no food or drink by mouth will be allowed in order to allow the pancreas to rest. A feeding tube may need to be used in some situations.

Once a diagnosis has been made, treatment is tailored to the severity of the pancreatitis and the underlying cause. Additional tests may be needed to determine the underlying cause of the pancreatitis. This is to ensure that the correct treatment is given to prevent this from recurring. Sometimes, minimally-invasive surgery will be needed to remove gallstones or to remove the permanently damaged part of the pancreas.

WHO IS AT RISK FOR PANCREATITIS?

Men are more likely to get pancreatitis than women and African Americans are more likely to get it than people of other nationalities. Those with a family history of pancreatitis are at greater risk. And people with a personal history of gallstones are at greater risk.

NEXT STEPS

  • Stay aware. If you have exposure to any of the causes of pancreatitis, you may be in the risk category for this condition. Stay aware of the symptoms of pancreatitis and seek medical attention immediately if you begin experiencing them.  
  • Seek medical intervention. If left untreated, pancreatitis can lead to more serious complications. To request an evaluation at Loma Linda University Health, contact your provider or schedule the appointment through MyChart.