Is Pancreatitis Life Threatening?

Yes, pancreatitis is a life threatening condition if left untreated.
Yes, pancreatitis is a life-threatening condition if left untreated.

Yes, pancreatitis is a life-threatening condition if left untreated. Severe recurrent pancreatitis may cause blood and fluid loss causing life-threatening conditions such as multi-organ failure. The range of disease is from self-limiting to fatal, with an incidence and mortality rate that increases with age. There are two types of pancreatitis:

  • Acute pancreatitis: Sudden inflammation of the pancreas which results in extreme abdominal pain and usually reduces on its own within one week. 
  • Severe pancreatitis: Severe pancreatitis is a long-term condition, which impairs the functioning of the pancreas. It affects the body’s ability to digest food and other functions. 

What are the common symptoms of pancreatitis?

The most common symptom is severe upper stomach pain that may radiate to the back or chest and may feel worse after eating or drinking alcohol.

Other symptoms of acute pancreatitis include:

The symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include:

What are the common causes of pancreatitis?

Digestive enzymes travel from the pancreas to the small intestine. If the pancreatic duct is blocked, the enzymes become trapped and accumulate in the pancreas. When activated while still in the pancreas they begin irritating the pancreas tissue, causing swelling, bleeding, infection, and damage, leading to pancreatitis.  The most common cause of acute pancreatitis is the presence of stones in the gallbladder, which can block the enzymes flowing from the pancreatic duct to the small intestine. Other causes include:

  • Family history of pancreatitis.
  • Recurrent exposure to chemicals.
  • High-fat levels in the blood or high-fat diet.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Severe injury or recent abdominal procedure
  • Hereditary disease.
  • Severe infections like mumps or lupus
  • By birth abnormality of the pancreas or intestine.
  • Excessive exposure to smoking
  • Cancer of pancreas
  • a venomous sting from a scorpion
  • Certain side effects of medications
  • High levels of calcium in the blood
  • Cystic fibrosis (a hereditary disease characterized by buildup of abnormally thick, sticky mucus in the lungs and other organs)
  • Drug allergies such as an allergy to penicillin or codeine


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What are the common tests to diagnose pancreatitis?

Common tests to diagnose pancreatitis include:

  • Various blood tests: Blood tests may be ordered by doctors to know the levels of digestive enzymes in the blood such as amylase and lipase. Doctors may also check for blood sugar levels, triglycerides, lipids, and fats in the blood. A blood test also helps in identifying signs of infection or inflammation of the bile ducts, pancreas, gallbladder, or liver and pancreatic cancer
  • Stool tests: Stool sample may determine fat malabsorption
  • Imaging tests: Ultrasound, CT scans of the pancreas, gallbladder, and bile ducts and Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) creates pictures of  organs and soft tissues to determine abnormalities in the pancreas
  • Endoscopic ultrasound: Doctors may insert a thin, flexible tube down the throat, through the stomach, and into the small intestine. The doctor then turns on an ultrasound attachment to create pictures of your pancreas and bile ducts. 
  • Pancreatic Function Test (PFT). Doctors may use this test to measure how the pancreas responds to secretin, a hormone produced by the small intestine.

What are the treatment options for pancreatitis?

The common treatment for pancreatitis includes:

  • A hospital stay to treat dehydration with intravenous (IV) fluids or with oral rehydration therapy
  • Pain medicine, and antibiotics by mouth or through an IV, if the infection is detected in the pancreas
  • A low-fat diet, or nutrition by feeding tube or IV a patient is unable to eat
  • Mild pancreatitis usually goes away in a few days with rest and treatment
  • The doctor may give enzyme pills and vitamins to help with digestion and treat malabsorption. 
  • Surgery: The doctor may recommend surgery to remove the gallbladder, called cholecystectomy
  • Procedures: The doctor may drain fluid from the abdomen or remove damaged tissue from the pancreas.
  • Endoscopic Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): Doctors use ERCP to treat both acute and chronic pancreatitis. ERCP combines upper gastrointestinal endoscopy and X-rays to treat narrowing or blockage of bile or pancreatic duct. They are also used to remove gallstones blocking the bile or pancreatic ducts.
  • Surgeons may also perform surgery to remove the whole pancreas and may transplant islets from the pancreas into the liver. The islets will begin to make hormones and release them into your bloodstream.
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