When acute pancreatitis strikes

Women are one-and-a-half times more likely than men to have acute pancreatitis caused by gallstones. On the other hand, men are six times more likely than women to have acute pancreatitis caused by alcoholism.

What is pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is the inflammation and autodigestion of the pancreas. Autodigestion describes a process whereby pancreatic enzymes destroy its own tissue leading to inflammation. The inflammation may be sudden (acute) or ongoing (chronic). Acute pancreatitis usually involves a single "attack," after which the pancreas returns to normal. Severe acute pancreatitis can be life-threatening. In chronic pancreatitis, permanent damage occurs to the pancreas and its function, often leading to fibrosis (scarring).

What causes pancreatitis?

The most common causes of pancreatitis include the following:

Other causes of pancreatitis include the following:

What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?

The following are the most common symptoms of pancreatitis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

Severe abdominal pain in the upper abdomen is usually a symptom of acute pancreatitis. The symptoms of pancreatitis may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is pancreatitis diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for pancreatitis may include the following:

Treatment for pancreatitis

Specific treatment for pancreatitis will be determined by your doctor based on:

The overall goal for treatment of pancreatitis is to rest the pancreas and allow it to recover from the inflammation.

Treatment may include:

Individuals with chronic pancreatitis may also require:

Acute pancreatitis is self-limiting, meaning it usually resolves on its own over time. Up to 90 percent of individuals recover from acute pancreatitis without any complications. Chronic pancreatitis may also be self-limiting, but may resolve after several attacks and with a greater risk of developing long-term problems, such as diabetes, chronic pain, diarrhea, ascites, biliary cirrhosis, bile duct obstruction, or pancreatic cancer.

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