Pancreatitis is a condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed.
The pancreas, an organ that is located behind the stomach, has two functions. It secretes enzymes into the small intestine that aid in digestion (exocrine function), and it produces the hormones insulin and glucagon, which are released into the bloodstream to help regulate blood sugar (endocrine function).
Pancreatitis is most commonly caused by alcohol consumption or passage of a gallstone through the bile duct, the tube that connects the gallbladder to the small intestine.
Other causes of acute pancreatitis include medications, infection, trauma, elevated triglycerides, abnormal pancreatic anatomy, and a complication from surgery or medical procedures.
Symptoms of pancreatitis include severe pain in the upper abdomen, which often travels into the back, along with nausea and vomiting.
Pancreatitis is diagnosed by detecting elevated pancreatic enzyme (amylase and lipase) levels in the bloodstream. It can also be seen on imaging studies of the pancreas such as an ultrasound, CT Scan, or MRI.
Most cases of pancreatitis are mild and resolve in several days. More severe cases can be prolonged and associated with complications such as infection, kidney failure, respiratory failure, fluid extravasation, and rarely, even death.
Treatment consists of supportive care with intravenous fluids, medications to relieve pain and nausea and management of any problems that may have contributed to the attack.