What is Acute Pancreatitis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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Acute pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas gland, a gland located near the digestive tract. As with other conditions categorized as “acute,” acute pancreatitis has a rapid onset, and if the condition is treated, it should totally resolve itself. Pancreatitis of either the acute or chronic form can be very dangerous, and it usually requires hospitalization to stabilize the patient and manage the inflammation.

This gland, located near the gallbladder, plays an important role in the digestive tract by secreting both digestive enzymes and hormones as they are needed by the body. The leading causes of acute pancreatitis are gallstones and alcohol consumption, but the gland can also become inflamed due to the use of certain drugs, or as a result of trauma or infection. In all cases, the inflammation usually causes back pain which spreads rapidly, along with nausea, fever, chills, vomiting, foul smelling stools, and loss of appetite. In extreme cases, the patient can go into shock.


Pain control is an important part of acute pancreatitis management, as the pain can be extreme and it can interfere with the patient's ability to heal. The treatment also includes “nil per ora,” meaning that the patient is not allowed to eat or drink. This is designed to give the gland a break so that the inflammation will not be exacerbated. To keep the patient hydrated, intravenous fluids will be used. Nutrition can be reintroduced with a gastric tube if the inflammation is prolonged.

In some cases, antibiotics may be prescribed, if the inflammation appears to be the result of an infection. Surgery can be used to treat extreme cases of acute pancreatitis, and other drugs may be used to manage the condition. The patient must also be monitored for the early signs of shock so that if shock does begin to develop, interventions can be provided quickly. Left untreated, the complications can include systemic organ failure as a result of toxins released by the inflamed glands, and the patient can die.

The mortality rate for people with acute pancreatitis is usually under five percent. When the condition is recognized and treated properly, recovery can be very rapid, and the patient may experience no long term problems. More serious cases can have a longer recovery time, and they may turn into chronic pancreatitis, in which the gland remains persistently inflamed and the patient requires careful long term care to avoid complications.



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