Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that causes digestive enzymes to attack and damage surrounding tissues. With chronic pancreatitis, the inflammation does not heal, worsens over time, and can lead to permanent damage, severe pain, and pancreatic insufficiency.
Overview and Symptoms
Its primary symptom is upper abdominal pain that can get worse after eating. Other symptoms include nausea, fever, bleeding, swelling, and damage to the pancreas. Pancreatitis may be acute (it goes away on its own) or chronic (it continues for weeks, months, or years). Chronic pancreatitis is a serious condition that can prevent the pancreas from producing the enzymes needed by the body for digestion of food.
Pancreatitis is the most common reason for gastrointestinal-related hospitalization and strikes young and old alike. Contrary to popular belief, only a small subset of pancreatitis cases are related to heavy alcohol use. In many patients, including young children, the cause of the inflammation is unexplained.
Treatment for pancreatitis is based on its cause and the severity of symptoms. People with alcohol-induced pancreatitis must stop drinking. Infections that accompany pancreatitis are treated with antibiotics. Dehydration is treated with intravenous fluids. Malabsorption or excessive vomiting may necessitate a feeding tube. Treatment also includes managing nutritional needs and relieving pain. Beth Israel Deaconess nutritionists and pain management specialists are available to consult with all patients who are diagnosed with pancreatitis.
In severe cases, the pancreas may require drainage either by a surgical procedure or using endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatogram (ERCP), a procedure in which a flexible, lighted scope is passed down the throat to affected area. If pancreatitis is caused by gallstones, surgery to remove the gallbladder or ERCP to open a blocked bile duct may be needed.
The Digestive Disease Center offers multidisciplinary specialty care that includes physicians, surgeons and nurses as well as experts in nutrition.
The Pancreas Center is a world-class leader in the diagnosis and treatment of acute (sudden) and chronic (long-lasting) pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), as well as other pancreatic disorders.