Pancreatitis is where the pancreas is inflamed, and can be acute or chronic. Alcohol and gallstones are the main causes.

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About pancreatitis

The pancreas is a small organ located behind the stomach that helps with your digestion. Most people with acute pancreatitis feel better without treatment within a week, with no further problems. However, some people with severe acute pancreatitis or chronic pancreatitis  where the inflammation is persistent  will require medical attention.

Need to know

Symptoms of pancreatitis may include:

  • a sudden, severe pain in your abdomen
  • feeling nauseous or being sick
  • diarrhoea
  • a high temperature

Your consultant will ask you about your symptoms and perform a physical examination. The main symptom of acute pancreatitis is a strong pain in the upper abdomen where the pancreas is. Other symptoms that may be present include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • fever

If you have chronic pancreatitis, you may feel regular pain in the upper abdomen and some of the following symptoms, caused by difficulty in digesting food:

  • stomach cramps
  • bloating and wind
  • foul-smelling stools
  • unexplained weight loss
  • jaundice

To confirm diagnosis and assess the severity of your condition, you may also be advised to take:

  • blood tests, including genetic tests
  • an ultrasound scan
  • a CT or MRI scan

Treatment will depend on how severe your pancreatitis is. Your consultant will discuss your treatment options with you to help determine the best approach.
In acute pancreatitis, symptoms often settle in a few days. Treatment options at this time include:

  • painkillers by injection
  • a nasogastric tube to remove the fluid from your stomach and provide nutrition
  • a 'drip' to prevent dehydration
  • a catheter to drain urine

Treatment options for chronic pancreatitis include:

  • stop drinking alcohol
  • painkillers and nerve blocks
  • enzyme replacement medication to aid digestion
  • insulin if diabetes develops
  • stop smoking to reduce pancreatic cancer risk

Patient stories

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.