Typically pancreatitis will require admission to the hospital. Pancreatitis is actually one of the most
common gastrointestinal reasons for admission to a hospital in the US. Treatment will often include
pain medicine, fluids given through an IV and occasionally diet modifications such as a liquid diet or
occasionally even a special feeding tube. Historically, patients were advised not to eat anything in the
setting of pancreatitis however we now know the early nutrition is important to prevent
complications of pancreatitis such as infection. Endoscopy may be needed if any gallstones are stuck
in the main bile duct. Surgery may be needed if there is a severe infection called necrosis. Lastly,
gallbladder removal is almost always recommended during the initial hospitalization for pancreatitis
to prevent a future attack if gallstones are found in the gallbladder itself. If the cause of the
pancreatitis is not from gallstones but rather from alcohol, then complete alcohol cessation is
What is the Treatment for Chronic Pancreatitis?
The most important goal in the treatment of chronic pancreatitis is to provide pain relief and prevent progression of disease. If pain is difficult to control, you may be referred to a chronic pain specialist. At times, relief of pain may require endoscopic, radiologic, or surgical treatment. If your pancreas is found to be unable to provide sufficient enzymes for adequate digestion, you may benefit from enzyme supplements. Also, if your blood sugar level is very high and not controlled by diet or oral medications, insulin may be required. It is important to avoid alcohol. Complete sessation of smoking is recommended as it is a risk factor for progression of chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. In a few select patients, there is also the option of surgically removing the pancreas to reduce pain and transplanting the islets from the pancreas into the liver to potentially prevent diabetes. Since chronic pancreatitis is also a risk factor for pancreatic cancer, you should speak to your provider about ways to help reduce your risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
Prevention of Pancreatitis
- Gallstone Pancreatitis – surgical removal of the gallbladder
- Alcohol/tobacco induced Pancreatitis – strict abstinence from alcohol and/or tobacco
- Drug Induced Pancreatitis – avoid offending medication
- Hypertriglyceridemia – aggressive lipid-lowering agents
- Avoidance of high fat foods, consuming diets rich in vegetables, and maintaining adequate fluid intake
Bile – A secretion from the liver that assists in digesting fats.
Biliary System – The ducts and tubes that collect and drain bile in to the intestine.
CT Scan – Computerized tomography is a specialized radiologic test for imaging the pancreas and other intra-abdominal organs.
ECRP (Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography) – A procedure utilizing a long, narrow, flexible tube called an endoscope that is introduced via the mouth into the small intestine to examine the pancreatic duct and bile ducts.
EUS – An endoscopic test for imaging the pancreas and other intra-abdominal organs.
Diabetes Mellitus – A condition characterized by an abnormally elevated blood sugar level. One cause is failure of the pancreas to secrete enough insulin when a patient has severe chronic pancreatitis.
Endocrine – The portion of the gland that releases insulin directly into the blood stream.
Exocrine – The portion of the gland that secretes pancreatic juice via the pancreatic duct into the small intestine.
Inflammation – A response to tissue injury that results in redness, swelling, and pain.
MRI – Magnetic resonance imaging is a radiologic test for imaging the pancreas and other intra-abdominal organs. It also visualizes the pancreatic and bile ducts.
Pancreas – The pancreas is an organ within the abdomen that is responsible for digestion of food and control of blood sugar.
Pancreatic duct – Drains pancreatic enzymes into the duodenum.
Ultrasonography (Ultrasound) – A radiologic test for imaging the pancreas and other intra-abdominal organs. It is particularly useful in visualizing the liver and gall bladder.
Author(s) and Publication Date(s)
Brian Riff, MD, Associated Gastroenterology Medical Group – Updated June 2021.
Vikesh K. Singh, MD, MSc, Pancreatitis Center, Division of Gastroenterology, Johns Hopkins Hospital and Bechien U. Wu, MD, MPH, Division of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Southern California – Updated December 2012.
Peter A. Banks, MD, MACG, Brigham & Women's Hospital, Boston, MA – Updated April 2007.
Peter A. Banks, MD, FACG and Saleem A. Desai, MD, Brigham & Women's Hospital, Boston, MA – Published October 2002.
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