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Acute Pancreatitis

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Acute Pancreatitis


Acute pancreatitis is sudden inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is an organ that sits behind the stomach. It makes fluids that help break down food in the small intestine.

The Pancreas.

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Causes may be:

Sometimes the cause is not known.

Risk Factors

The risk of this problem is higher in people who have any of the causes listed above.

Other things that may raise the risk of this problem are:


The main problem is mild to severe pain in the center of the belly. It may also spread into the upper back. This pain may last several days.

A person with acute pancreatitis may also have:

  • Swollen belly
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever


The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. The doctor may ask about alcohol use. A physical exam will be done.

Tests may also be done. They include:


Any underlying causes will need to be treated.

Most people get better in a few days. The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms during this time. This may be done with:

  • Supportive care, such as drinking extra fluids or getting fluids through an IV
  • Diet changes, such as a low fat diet or nutrition given through a tube that is passed through the nose and into the stomach
  • Medicines to ease pain

People who are not helped by these methods may need surgery. The type of surgery done depends on the reason for the pancreatitis. A person may have:

  • Percutaneous catheter drainage to drain fluid from the pancreas
  • ERCP to remove gallstones
  • Cholecystectomy to remove the gallbladder if gallstones are the cause
  • Necrosectomy to remove dying or dead tissue from the pancreas


To lower the risk of this health problem:

  • Manage chronic health problems, such as high triglycerides and obesity
  • Limit alcohol




  • Acute pancreatitis in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/acute-pancreatitis-in-adults.
  • Causes of acute pancreatitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/causes-of-acute-pancreatitis.
  • Pancreatitis. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/pancreatitis.
  • Pancreatitis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/pancreatitis/definition-facts.
  • Prevention of acute pancreatitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/prevention/prevention-of-acute-pancreatitis.


  • James P. Cornell, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.