Pancreatitis Treatment Overview
First steps to consider
- If you have a history of pancreatitis and are having a flare-up of symptoms—severe, constant pain above your belly button or pain while lying back—see a healthcare provider.
- Treatment usually includes intravenous (IV) fluids and pain medications.
Go to the ER if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Intense abdominal pain that radiates to your back along with nausea and vomiting, fever, chills, and heart racing.
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When to see a healthcare provider
Always see a healthcare provider if you have signs of pancreatitis. The main symptoms are severe pain above the belly button that goes through to your back, fever and chills, nausea and vomiting, and pain that prevents you from eating.
Treat acute pancreatitis right away because it can be life-threatening and lead to serious complications, like infection, pancreatic tissue death, kidney failure, and chronic pancreatitis. If you think you might have pancreatitis, go to the ER immediately.
People with chronic pancreatitis should have regular visits with their provider to have their pancreas and blood work closely monitored. The condition raises your risk of diabetes 3c, a type of diabetes that occurs when the pancreas is so damaged that it can no longer produce insulin.
Pancreatitis is diagnosed based on a physical exam and lab and imaging tests. Tests may include:
- Blood tests to measure levels of digestive enzymes made by your pancreas, blood sugar levels, the amount of fats in the blood, and signs of inflammation and infection
- A stool sample to check whether your body is absorbing fat properly
- Ultrasound to look for gallstones, which are a leading cause of pancreatitis
- CT scan, which can show pancreatitis
- Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography to look at your pancreas, gallbladder, and bile ducts for causes of pancreatitis
- Endoscopic ultrasound. Your doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube down your throat into your stomach and small intestines and uses ultrasound waves to create images of your pancreas and bile ducts.
What to expect from your doctor visit
- If you have acute pancreatitis, your provider will likely tell you to go to the hospital so you can be treated with intravenous (IV) fluids and pain medications. You will be told not to eat for about 24–48 hours to allow your pancreas to recover.
- You will likely have blood tests every day to make sure you’re not having any complications (like abnormalities in your blood, dehydration, fluid buildup from the inflammation collecting around that pancreas).
- You may be given antibiotics by mouth or through an IV if your pancreas is infected.
- Most people start to feel better in a few days to a week. The pancreas usually heals after a week or two, and most people leave the hospital within that time frame.
- If you have severe acute pancreatitis, you may need surgery. If gallstones caused your pancreatitis, a surgeon may remove the gallbladder.
- A type of surgery called endoscopic cholangiopancreatography may be recommended to treat both acute and chronic pancreatitis. The procedure is used to treat a narrowing or blockage of a bile or pancreatic duct.
- If you have chronic pancreatitis, surgery can relieve pressure or a blockage in your pancreatic duct or to remove a damaged or infected part of the pancreas. Your doctor may recommend removing the entire pancreas if other procedures don’t work.
- To manage pain caused by chronic pancreatitis, you may be given an injection (nerve block) that helps stop the delivery of pain messages from the pancreas to the brain.
Types of pancreatitis providers
- A primary care provider can evaluate symptoms of pancreatitis and tell you if you need to go to the hospital for treatment.
- A gastroenterologist—a doctor who specializes in treating the organs of the digestive system like the pancreas—can diagnose and treat pancreatitis.
- If surgery is needed, you’ll be referred to a hepatobiliary and pancreas surgeon, who has specialized training in treating conditions of the pancreas, liver, bile duct, and gallbladder.
Wellness and prevention
- Limit or stop drinking alcohol. Alcohol abuse can cause both acute and chronic pancreatitis.
- Avoid eating foods that are high in fat. Don’t have more than 30 grams of fat a day.
- Lose weight if necessary. Obesity is a risk factor for pancreatitis. Controlling your weight can also help prevent diabetes, which also increases the risk of pancreatitis.
- Stop smoking. Smokers are on average three times more likely to develop chronic pancreatitis than non-smokers.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Yoga, meditation, and alternative therapies like acupuncture may help relieve pain caused by pancreatitis.
- If you have chronic pancreatitis, take any vitamins and enzyme pills your doctor recommends. Pancreatitis can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb nutrients.