Definition: inflammation of the pancreas

What is the pancreas?

The pancreas is a gland that attaches to the small intestine that has both exocrine and endocrine functions. The exocrine function is to produce enzymes for digestion, while the endocrine function is to secrete hormones such as insulin. When the pancreas is not functioning properly digestion of food and nutrients is difficult due to lack of enzymes to break down nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, and lipids into absorbable particles that can be utilized by the body.
How is one diagnosed?
One should go through many lab tests. For acute pancreatitis digestive or pancreatic enzymes such as amylase and lipase in the blood will be high. Glucose, potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium and bicarbonate may also be high. Ultrasounds may also be given in order to find out what the root cause of the pancreatitis is. CT and X-ray scans may also be helpful. Other test for pancreatitis include, fecal fat test, serum IgG4 (for diagnosing autoimmune pancreatitis), serum trypsinogen, and
exploratory laparotomy.

Types of Pancreatitis:
Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic.
  • Acute Pancreatitisis a sudden onset of inflammation that lasts for only a few days. If it goes on long enough it can cause severe issues like kidney failure, heart attack, lung failure and hypoxia. This is why early diagnosis is crucial.
    • Causes:
      • Cholelithiasis (gallstones) that block the common bile duct
      • Chronic alcohol consumption
      • Abdominal Trauma
      • Genetics
    • Symptoms:
      • Mild to severe pain in the abdomen extending to the back
      • Abdominal swelling
      • Nausea, vomiting
      • Fever and rapid pulse


  • Chronic Pancreatitisis inflammation of the pancreas that lasts longer than a few days and worsens over time. Acute attacks can cause scar tissue to form in the pancreas that results in chronic pancreatitis.
    • Causes:
      • Chronic alcohol consumption
      • Genetics
      • Hyperlipidemia
    • Symptoms:
      • Abdominal pain
        • As pancreatitis progresses and digestive enzymes are no longer produced, abdominal pain may subside.
      • Nausea, vomiting, weight loss, diarrhea
        • Due to the body's inability to digest nutrients because it is lacking enzymes from the pancreas to break down food.
      • Steatorrhea (fat malabsorption) can lead to oily stools
        • Due to difficulty digesting lipids.
      • Glucose intolerance
        • The pancreas has an endocrine function of producing insulin, which is required for glucose regulation. When the pancreas is under stress, glucose intolerance results due to interruptions in insulin production.

Treatment for Pancreatitis:

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  • Acute Pancreatitis:types-of-acute-pancreatitis.jpg
    • Medical Treatment:
      • Control pain with medication and rest.
      • Drain fluid from pancreatic ducts, especially when cholelithiasis is occurring.
      • Fluids given through veins (IV).
      • Remove gallstones if they are causing the acute attack.
      • Relieve blockages of pancreatic duct.
    • Dietary Treatment:
      • Limit fats because the GI tract will be lacking digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas to break down fat.
      • Stop intake of fluid and foods by mouth to reduce pancreatic activity. This usually calls for parenteral nutrition or an NG tube to the stomach. This helps to give the pancreas a rest.
  • Chronic Pancreatitis:pancreatitis.jpg
    • Medical treatment:
      • Pain medication to relieve pain.
      • Pancreatic enzymes taken with meals in order to digest food and nutrients.
      • Fluids given through veins (IV).
      • Test glucose tolerance.
    • Dietary Treatment:
      • Drink plenty of liquids.
      • Low-fat diet (less than 30% kcal from fat).
        • This is a normal recommendation, but is especially important when pancreatitis is occurring since the body may lack enzymes produced by the pancreas to break down lipids and fat.
      • Eat small, frequent meals to help with digestion of nutrients.
      • Adequate vitamins and calcium.
      • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, as they may exacerbate pancreatic irritation.