The pancreas is an organ in the belly (abdomen). It secretes hormones and digestive juices (enzymes) into the stomach to aid with digestion and blood sugar levels. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. In many cases, it's caused when the duct that connects the pancreas and gallbladder is blocked by a gallstone. Heavy alcohol use is another major cause. Less common causes can include medicines, trauma, certain medical procedures, viruses, and toxins. Sometimes the cause of pancreatitis can't be found. Genetic testing is sometimes done in those cases, especially if there is a family history of pancreatic disease.

Symptoms of pancreatitis include:

  • Severe abdominal pain 

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Severe indigestion

  • Racing heart

  • Fever

If the pancreatitis becomes a chronic problem, diarrhea, chronic pain, weight loss, and poor nutrition can result.

At first, pancreatitis may be treated in the hospital. It may be diagnosed by history, exam, blood tests, and sometimes imaging studies.  While in the hospital, fluids and medicines can be provided. The underlying cause of the problem must also be treated to prevent further problems. If gallstones are the cause, you and your healthcare provider can discuss choices for treating them. This often results in gallbladder surgery. Sometimes another test must be done to clear the drainage ducts of a blocked gallstones. If alcohol is the cause, talk with your healthcare provider about a program to help you stop drinking.

Home care

  • Don't drink alcohol.

  • Rest in bed or sit up in a chair until you feel better.

  • Take medicines as prescribed. If you were given an antibiotic for infection, take it until it's gone, even if you feel better. Let your healthcare provider know if you vomit up your medicine.

Tips for eating and drinking:

  • Try sipping small amounts of clear liquids often to prevent dehydration. 

  • Your provider may advise clear liquids only for 1 or 2 days. This is to rest the pancreas.

  • When you start eating again, start with small amounts. Have small, more frequent meals rather than larger meals. Low-fat meals are best. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are good choices. Stay away from fried and greasy foods.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider as advised.

When to get medical care

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Pain that continues or gets worse

  • Repeated vomiting

  • Dizziness, weakness

  • Fever of 100.4º F (38º C) or higher, or as advised by your provider

  • Severe muscle cramps

  • Yellowish coloring of the skin and eyes (jaundice)

Call 911

Call 911 if you have any of the following:

  • Vomiting blood or large amounts of blood in stool

  • Seizure

  • Loss of consciousness

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