Pancreatitis is pathologic inflammation of the pancreas. Your pancreas sits behind your stomach, near your small intestine. It releases enzymes that help you digest food and also regulates how your body manages glucose.

Types of pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is generally acute or chronic. Necrotizing pancreatitis can result from extreme cases of acute pancreatitis. Treatment for each case of pancreatitis depends on the severity of symptoms.

Acute pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis is a main cause of hospital admissions for gastrointestinal issues. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), around 275,000 Americans are admitted to the hospital for acute pancreatitis every year.   The onset of acute pancreatitis is often very sudden. The inflammation usually clears up within several days after treatment begins, but some cases could require a hospital stay.   Acute pancreatitis is much more common in adults than in children. Gallstones are the primary cause of acute pancreatitis in adults. The condition can also develop into chronic pancreatitis, especially if you smoke or regularly drink alcohol.

Chronic pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that comes back consistently or occurs over a long period of time.   People with chronic pancreatitis can have permanent damage to their pancreas and other complications. Scar tissue develops from this continuing inflammation.   Pancreatitis can damage cells that produce insulin, a hormone released by the pancreas that regulates the amount of sugar in your blood. This leads to diabetes in about 45 percent of people with chronic pancreatitis.   Long-term alcohol use causes around 70 percent of cases of chronic pancreatitis in adults. Autoimmune and genetic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, can also cause chronic pancreatitis in some people.

Necrotizing pancreatitis

Severe cases of acute pancreatitis can develop into necrotizing pancreatitis, which refers to the death of cells due to disease. This occurs in about 10 percentTrusted Source of acute pancreatitis cases, typically when pancreatitis is left untreated.   Inflammation from pancreatitis can cause digestive enzymes to leak into the pancreas. This can result in damage and death of the tissue, leading to necrotizing pancreatitis. Your doctor may order an abdominal ultrasound or CT scan to diagnose the condition.   If you have necrotizing pancreatitis, your doctor may take a sample of the dead tissue to make sure it hasn’t become infected. If you have an infection, you’ll likely need to take antibiotics and may need to have the dead tissue removed.   The infection of dead tissue increases the risk of death from necrotizing pancreatitis, so it’s very important to seek treatment as quickly as possible.

Pancreatitis treatment

Treatment for acute or chronic pancreatitis often involves hospitalization. The pancreas is a key contributor to your digestive processes and needs to rest to heal.   For this reason, you may receive specifically tailored fluids and nutrition intravenously (IV) or through a tube that goes from your nose directly into your stomach. This is called a nasogastric feeding tube.   Medication may help control the pain. You may also receive artificial digestive enzymes for chronic pancreatitis if your pancreas isn’t producing enough of them on its own.   Restarting an oral diet depends on your condition. Some people feel better after a couple of days. Other people need a week or two to heal sufficiently.

Pancreatitis pain

Pain associated with pancreatitis may last from a few minutes to several hours at a time. In severe cases, discomfort from chronic pancreatitis could become constant.   Your pain is likely to increase after you eat or when you’re lying down. Try sitting up or leaning forward to make yourself more comfortable.   Activities like yoga, meditation, and acupuncture may help with pain from pancreatitis. You can also try taking pain medication or antioxidant supplements to help relieve pain.   Surgery is currently a last resort for treating pancreatitis, but research from 2013 indicated that performing surgery earlier in the course of treatment may help with pain relief.

Pancreatitis complications

Some people may develop complications. These complications are rare, but they’re more common in people with chronic pancreatitis:   kidney damage pancreatic cancer diabetes malnutrition pancreatic infections Acute pancreatitis may increase your risk of developing breathing difficulties. It can also cause pseudocysts to form when tissue and other debris collect on your pancreas. These may go away by themselves. If they rupture, it can cause infection and bleeding that can be fatal if untreated.

Pancreatitis risk factors

Several factors increase your risk of developing pancreatitis. These include: heavy alcohol use (more than two drinksTrusted Source per day) obesity smoking cigarettes genetics Men are more likely to develop chronic pancreatitis than women. A combination of risk factors, like smoking and having a family history of pancreatitis, increases your chances of getting pancreatitis. Smoking or drinking alcohol may also increase the risk of acute pancreatitis developing into chronic pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis prevention

Depending on the cause, you may not be able to prevent pancreatitis. Still, there are several things you can do to reduce your risk: Limit your alcoholic drinks. Stop smoking. Maintain a healthy weight. Eat a balanced diet. Eating high-fiber foods and avoiding sugar may help you prevent gallstones, which are the main cause of acute pancreatitis.