Acute pancreatitis is sudden swelling and inflammation of the pancreas.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
The pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach that produces chemicals called enzymes, as well as the hormones insulin and glucagon. Most of the time, the enzymes are only active after they reach the small intestine, where they are needed to digest food.
When these enzymes somehow become active inside the pancreas, they eat (and digest) the tissue of the pancreas. This causes swelling, bleeding (hemorrhage), and damage to the pancreas and its blood vessels.
Acute pancreatitis affects men more often than women. Certain diseases, surgeries, and habits make you more likely to develop this condition.
The condition is most often caused by alcoholism and alcohol abuse (70% of cases in the United States). Genetics may be a factor in some cases. Sometimes the cause is not known, however.
Other conditions that have been linked to pancreatitis are:
Autoimmune problems (when the immune system attacks the body)
Blockage of the pancreatic duct or common bile duct, the tubes that drain enzymes from the pancreas
Treatment often requires a stay in the hospital and may involve:
Fluids given through a vein (IV)
Stopping food or fluid by mouth to limit the activity of the pancreas
Occasionally a tube will be inserted through the nose or mouth to remove the contents of the stomach (nasogastric suctioning). This may be done if vomiting or severe pain do not improve, or if a paralyzed bowel (paralytic ileus) develops. The tube will stay in for 1 - 2 days to 1 - 2 weeks.
Treating the condition that caused the problem can prevent repeated attacks.
In some cases, therapy is needed to:
Drain fluid that has collected in or around the pancreas
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.