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Acute pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas that develops quickly.

The pancreas is an organ located in in the upper abdomen behind the stomach and intestines. It makes a fluid that contains chemicals needed to digest food. The fluid is drained into the small intestine. A group of cells in the pancreas make the hormones insulin and glucagon that control the blood sugar level.

Acute pancreatitis most commonly results from gallstones or alcohol. Other causes include elevated blood triglyceride or calcium levels, some medications, autoimmune, abnormal structure of the pancreas, post ERCP and others.

In most cases, the inflammation is mild and settles within few days with full recovery of the pancreas. Rarely, the inflammation becomes severe quickly resulting in death of pancreatic tissue and damage to other organs in the body. The latter is serious and can be fatal.

Symptoms of acute pancreatitis include upper abdominal pain that increases quickly in intensity and radiates to the back with possible vomiting and fever. Blood tests can confirm the diagnosis. Additional tests include an ultrasound to check for the presence of gallstones and possibly an abdominal scan later on.

This condition requires hospital admission. The treatment involves mainly intravenous hydration and painkillers. The patient is not allowed to feed by mouth before pain subsides. A tube may be passed down the nose to the stomach for feeding. In case the pancreatitis is severe, the patient is transferred to the intensive care unit for monitoring. Antibiotics are given if the pancreas becomes infected and surgery may be needed to remove damaged tissue. If gallstones are found to be the cause of pancreatitis, the gallbladder is surgically removed.