What is acute pancreatitis, and what can you do to avoid it? Is it a fatal condition, and what are the symptoms? Read on to find out all the details you need to know.

What Is Acute Pancreatitis?

Acute pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas, a gland behind your stomach, become inflamed. This gland is responsible for the release of hormones like insulin as well as enzymes that help properly digest food.

Some people who suffer from acute pancreatitis may experience nausea whenever they eat. Exams may show nothing substantial, and patients only experience discomfort, vomiting, or disruption of digestion after a meal.

Symptoms and Causes

When certain enzymes are active, they can cause a hemorrhage, damaging blood vessels in the pancreas. This condition is termed acute pancreatitis when there is also internal swelling and bleeding. The most common symptom of acute pancreatitis is a sharp abdominal pain, usually in the center of your stomach or towards its upper left side. Take note if the pain escalates after eating or drinking. Foods with high fat content (greasy, fried, etc.) are known to upset the pancreas.

The pain can worsen if you are in a horizontal, lying position and may even last for days, spreading out towards your shoulders. You may fall ill with fever, continue vomiting, or experience a cold sweat. Other symptoms to look out for include indigestion and jaundice.

Prevention and Risks

Men, those who have undergone some surgeries, or people who have habits such as alcohol abuse are more likely to suffer acute pancreatitis. In fact, up to 70% of patients with pancreatitis in the United States are those with alcohol problems.

While others who suffer the disease contracted it because of genetic reasons, the fact is that some people can experience acute pancreatitis for unknown reasons. However, other health conditions may contribute to or be connected to the ailment, including:

  • Problems with the immune system
  • Blockage from gallstones
  • Surgery that has damaged the pancreas
  • Hypertriglyceridemia, an illness caused by unusually high blood levels
  • An accident such as an automobile crash wherein the pancreas was damaged
  • Viral infections

How can you help prevent and decrease the risk of developing acute pancreatitis? Try the following:

  • Keep alcohol drinking to a minimum.
  • Vaccinate children.
  • Don’t administer aspirin unnecessarily when kids suffer from fevers, as doing so could affect their pancreas.
  • Eat healthy foods, avoiding those that are high in fat and salt content.
  • Stay hydrated.

Diagnosis and Tests

If your physician decides to test you for acute pancreatitis, they will order some blood tests and take photos of your abdomen through a CT scan. They usually call for these tests when the diagnosis has yet to be confirmed. Testing will also be done through transabdominal ultrasound, which uses sound waves to monitor and determine the exact location of the inflammation.

If you are only getting tested for abdominal problems, you will only need to schedule an appointment with a general practitioner at first. They will perform the initial tests and then recommend you to a specialist.

If you have acute pancreatitis, you will see a gastroenterologist, a doctor whose particular field is dealing with the digestive system and related diseases. If surgery is confirmed as necessary, you will then be tended to by a gastrointestinal surgeon.

Treatment, Procedures, and Medication

Once you have been diagnosed with acute pancreatitis, expect to stay in the hospital for a few days. You will need to be given pain medicines and an IV drip because you won’t be able to eat through your mouth during the procedure and because normal activity around the pancreas should be limited.

In some cases, your stomach will have to undergo nasogastric suctioning, or draining of collected fluid, which is done with an inserted tube passing through either your nostrils or your mouth. Depending on your condition, the tube will be in for as little as a day or up to a couple of weeks. If there are gallstones, these will also need to be removed through surgery. It is essential that you are properly treated so that there is no chance for recurrent pancreatic attacks or swelling. Only in the most severe cases is the damaged pancreatic tissue removed.

Healthy Lifestyle Tips

Besides striving for exercise daily, fresh air, and healthy habits all around, pay particular attention to your diet. Avoid highly processed foods or those that have high fat content. If you are prone to pancreatitis, avoid consuming alcohol or, at the very least, consider limiting it whenever possible.

Good, wholesome food plays an important part in making sure your body functions that way that it is supposed to.


Acute pancreatitis is a treatable illness, but even more importantly, it is also preventable. By paying close attention to your lifestyle and habits and by seeing a medical professional at the first sign of abdominal problems, you could avoid surgery or a lifelong battle with the disease.

It’s also important to note that children can be subject to the illness as well, so watch their diets, too. It’s better to stay healthy than to have to be cured.