Pancreatitis (cont.)

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What are the signs and symptoms of pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis causes upper abdominal pain which can range from mild to severe.

The pain may come on suddenly or it may develop gradually. Often, the pain will start or worsen after eating, which can also occur with gallbladder or ulcer pain. Abdominal pain tends to be the hallmark of acute pancreatitis. People with acute pancreatitis usually feel very ill.

Signs and symptoms of acute pancreatitis may include:

In chronic pancreatitis, abdominal pain also can be present, but it is often not as severe, and some people may not have any pain at all.

Signs and symptoms of chronic pancreatitis may include:

How is pancreatitis diagnosed?

There are a number of tests that alone, or in combination, will help establish the diagnosis of pancreatitis.

Blood tests

Amylase and/or lipase levels are typically elevated in cases of acute pancreatitis. These blood tests may not be elevated in cases of chronic pancreatitis. These are usually the first tests performed to establish the diagnosis of pancreatitis, as these results are generally readily and quickly available. Other blood tests may be ordered, for example:

  • liver and kidney function tests
  • tests for infection, and
  • tests for anemia.

Imaging studies

A CT (computed tomography) scan of the abdomen may be ordered to visualize the pancreas and to evaluate the extent of inflammation, as well as any of the potential complications that can arise from pancreatitis, such as bleeding or pseudocyst (a collection of fluid) formation. The CT scan may also detect gallstones (a major cause of pancreatitis) and other abnormalities of the biliary system.

Ultrasound imaging can be used to look for gallstones and abnormalities of the biliary system. Because ultrasound imaging does not emit radiation, this modality is frequently the initial imaging test obtained in cases of pancreatitis.

Depending on the underlying cause of pancreatitis and the severity of illness, additional testing may be ordered.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/28/2015

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