Munson Health
Acute Pancreatitis

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by Calvagna M


Pancreatitis occurs when digestive enzymes are activated in the pancreas instead of the small intestine. Acute pancreatitis has several causes. In some cases, the cause may be unknown.
Known causes of acute pancreatitis include
  • Obstruction of the pancreatic duct from:
    • Gallstones
    • Cancer
    • Diseases of the duodenum, the first section of the small intestine, where the pancreas empties
  • Alcohol
  • Surgery or trauma to the pancreas
  • Certain medications, such as those that treat cancer
  • Ischemia—insufficient blood supply to the pancreas
  • Complications of having endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your risk of acute pancreatitis include:


Symptoms may occur one time or many times. Repeated flare ups of symptoms are known as attacks.
Acute pancreatitis may cause:
Untreated acute pancreatitis may progress into chronic pancreatitis, a serious condition where the pancreas becomes permanently damaged.


Treatment for acute pancreatitis depends on the severity of the attack and what is causing it. For example, if medication is the cause of your pancreatitis, your doctor may change to a different medication or adjust the dose.
In most cases, acute pancreatitis isn't severe and can be treated. Treatment includes:


Generally, acute pancreatitis treatment requires hospitalization. Fluid and nutritional support can be administered by IV while your pancreas heals. During this time, you will be unable to eat or drink. Supplemental oxygen may also be given.
If you have severe pancreatitis, you may need a nasogastric tube. A long, thin tube is threaded through your nose and into your stomach for feeding.
You may also start treatment for any underlying causes of your pancreatitis.


Your doctor may recommend:
  • Antibiotics—to treat any infections
  • Pain medications
  • Protease inhibitors—to reduce the effects of digestive enzymes
  • Insulin—to help regulate blood glucose levels


National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

National Pancreas Foundation



Canadian Association of Gastroenterology

Health Canada



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Acute pancreatitis. Tulane University School of Medicine website. Available at: Accessed December 4, 2013.

Causes of acute pancreatitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated October 31, 2013. Accessed December 4, 2013.

Pancreatitis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: Updated August 16, 2012. Accessed December 4, 2013.

Prevention of acute pancreatitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated November 12, 2013. Accessed December 4, 2013.

4/7/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance Baker ME, Nelson RC, et al. ACR Appropriateness Criteria for acute pancreatitis. American College of Radiology (ACR); 2013. 11 p. Available at: Accessed April 7, 2014.

8/28/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance Johnson CD, Besselink MG, et al. Acute pancreatitis. BMJ. 2014 Aug 12;349:g4859.


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