The pancreas, located at the back of the abdomen, is an organ responsible for the production of digestive juices and the hormones insulin and glucagon which control blood sugars. Inflammation of the pancreas leads to a condition called pancreatitis. Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic.
Acute pancreatitis is characterized by sudden and severe abdominal pain that can radiate through to the back. Other symptoms may include fever, vomiting, nausea, sweating, swelling in the abdominal region and a feeling of fullness due to gas, jaundice (yellowish eyes and/or skin) and pale-coloured stools.
Acute pancreatitis affects men more often than women. It is most often caused by excessive intake of alcohol or the presence of gallstones however there are other rarer causes including genetic factors, autoimmune problems, certain medications and some medical procedures such as Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP).
Acute pancreatitis is diagnosed by laboratory tests that measure the levels of pancreatic enzymes in the blood (amylase and/or lipase) as well as imaging investigations such as CT, MRI and ultrasound scans.
The treatment of acute pancreatitis is directed towards supporting organ function during the inflammation while also treating the underlying cause of the condition. Mild cases may require hospital admission, where you will be given pain medication and intravenous fluids and closely monitored for recovery from your symptoms. In severe cases, treatment might need to occur in an intensive care unit where antibiotics may be administered and radiological or surgical procedures may be required.
If gallstones are thought to be the cause of the acute attack, then the gallbladder may need to be removed.