Acute pancreatitis is a condition where the pancreas becomes inflamed (swollen) over a short period of time. Acute pancreatitis is a leading gastrointestinal cause of hospitalization in the United States. Several conditions are associated with acute pancreatitis. Of these, gallstones and chronic alcohol use disorder account for approximately two-thirds of cases.

Signs / Symptoms

What's common signs of acute pancreatitis?

  • Upper abdominal pain that begins slowly or suddenly
  • Abdominal pain that radiates to your back
  • Abdominal pain that feels worse after eating
  • Nausea and vomiting, sometimes with anorexia
  • Tenderness when touching the abdomen
  • Rapid pulse
  • Diarrhea
  • A high temperature of 38 ⁰C or more (fever)

Common causes

What's common causes of acute pancreatitis?

  • Gallstones
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Abdominal surgery
  • Injury to the abdomen
  • Certain medications
  • Infection
  • Obesity
  • Pancreatic cancer

Departments & Emergency

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have persistent abdominal pain. See a General Practitioner or Gastroenterologist immediately if you suddenly develop severe abdominal pain.


  • Medical history 
  • Physical examination
  • Blood test
  • Imaging tests

Some conditions that share similar symptoms with acute pancreatitis, and which your doctor may be trying to rule out, include:

  • Peptic Ulcer Disease
  • Choledocholithiasis or cholangitis
  • Cholecystitis
  • Perforated viscus
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Mesenteric ischemia
  • Hepatitis 
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Chronic Pancreatitis


  • Fasting
  • Pain medications
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Procedures to remove bile duct obstructions
  • Gallbladder surgery
  • Pancreas surgery
  • Treatment for alcohol dependence
  • Endoscopic Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)


What is the mortality rate of acute pancreatitis?

Mortality in acute pancreatitis is usually due to systemic inflammatory response syndrome and organ failure in the first two-week period, while after two weeks it is usually due to sepsis and its complications. In a systematic review of studies of acute pancreatitis, overall mortality was approximately 5 percent, with mortality rates in patients with interstitial, and necrotizing pancreatitis, of 3 percent, and 17 percent, respectively.

How long until pancreatitis goes away?

Acute pancreatitis usually clears up within one to two weeks. Solid foods are generally avoided for a while in order to reduce the strain on the pancreas. Supportive measures like an infusion (IV drip) to provide fluids and painkillers can help to relieve symptoms and prevent complications.

When can you start eating again?

Patients are no longer advised to stop eating completely. Research has shown that many people can start eating a little again as soon as their symptoms improve and they feel hungry. This is even true for people who have a higher risk of complications.

How much alcohol is required to cause acute pancreatitis?

Alcohol is responsible for approximately 25 to 35 percent of cases of acute pancreatitis in the United States. Most commonly, the disease develops in patients whose alcohol ingestion is habitual over 5-15 years.

What is the most important first step in treating pancreatitis?

Acute pancreatitis causes the body to lose a lot of fluids quickly, which leads to a loss of important minerals too. Nausea and vomiting also make it difficult to get enough fluids. Dehydration can cause complications such as low blood pressure or even circulatory failure. To prevent this from happening, your doctor will put you on a drip that supplies them with fluids and electrolytes.

What is the difference between acute pancreatitis and chronic pancreatitis?

By definition, chronic pancreatitis is a completely different process from acute pancreatitis. In acute pancreatitis, the symptoms are acute and these are severe abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. The pancreas is acutely inflamed, and the serum levels of the pancreatic enzymes are elevated. Full recovery is observed in most patients with acute pancreatitis, whereas in chronic pancreatitis, the primary process is a chronic, irreversible inflammation.



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