Thumbnail image of: Pancreas: Illustration

Pancreatitis, Acute: Brief Version

What is acute pancreatitis?

When your pancreas gets swollen and painful, you have pancreatitis.

The pancreas is an organ behind the stomach. It makes chemicals that help digest food. It also makes insulin. Insulin controls the sugar level in your blood.

Pancreatitis can happen suddenly or over a long time. Pancreatitis that happens suddenly is called acute pancreatitis.

What is the cause?

Different things can cause pancreatitis. The most common causes are:

  • Gallstones
  • Drinking too much alcohol

What are the symptoms?

You may have a bad pain in your upper belly. You might have the pain 12 to 24 hours after a large meal or after you drink a lot of alcohol. The pain:

  • May spread to your back and chest
  • Is steady and sharp
  • Gets worse when you move
  • Feels better when you sit or lean forward
  • May make you throw up

In very bad cases, you may go into shock. During shock:

  • You may feel restless.
  • Your heartbeat may be fast.
  • You may feel lightheaded.
  • You may be confused and not able to think straight.
  • You may be cold and sweaty.

If you have any of these signs of shock, call 911 right away.

How is it treated?

You will probably stay in the hospital for treatment.

You may not be able to eat or drink anything for a while. As you get better you will start drinking clear fluids. Then you may eat soft foods that are easy to digest.

If you have gallstones, you may have surgery to remove them.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the instructions your healthcare provider gives you. This includes:

  • How you take medicines
  • What kind of food and drink you can have
  • How active you can be

Ask your provider before you take any medicine that he or she has not prescribed for you.

How can I help prevent another attack?

Pancreatitis can happen again. Here’s what you can do help prevent another attack:

  • Don’t drink alcohol. Ask your provider for help if it’s hard for you to stop drinking.
  • If you smoke, try to quit.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Eat only the foods your provider says are OK.
  • Work with your provider to keep your blood fats (cholesterol) normal.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-02-13
Last reviewed: 2015-01-28
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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