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Acute pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that develops over a short space of time. The pancreas is an organ that sits behind the stomach. One of its main functions is to make the substances needed to digest food properly.
Acute pancreatitis symptoms usually appear quickly and also resolve quickly, often improving within a week. Some people can take longer to recover.
The main symptom of acute pancreatitis is severe pain in the tummy (abdomen). This pain, usually located in the centre or upper left side of the tummy, develops quickly and may spread to the back.
Other symptoms include:
Acute pancreatitis is often caused by gallstones or drinking too much alcohol. It can be caused by high fatty acid levels or viral infections, but in some cases the cause is never identified.
Gallstones cause pancreatitis by blocking the tube (bile duct) that carries pancreatic fluid to the small bowel. This blockage causes the enzymes in the pancreatic fluid to build up and damage the pancreas.
It is not known exactly how drinking too much alcohol can lead to pancreatitis, but it is still best to limit your consumption.
Acute pancreatitis is typically treated in hospital. The treatment depends on the severity of your pancreatitis.
There is no specific treatment, but you may be given fluids directly into your veins (through an intravenous ‘drip’), a tube may be inserted from your nose into your tummy, or you may be given painkillers. In severe cases, intensive care or even surgery may be needed.
Recovery from acute pancreatitis often takes about a week. You will likely be able to leave hospital after a few days. Complications are not common after acute pancreatitis, but if you do develop complications, you may have to remain in hospital for these to be treated.
Severe acute pancreatitis is uncommon (occurring in 20% of acute pancreatitis), but it can cause serious complications that can sometimes lead to death. One such complication is pancreatic tissue death. This can trigger an infection in the pancreas, leading to blood poisoning (sepsis) and organ failure.
Infections are another complication that can be life-threatening. These usually develop after the first week.
You should avoid alcohol for a few months after having acute pancreatitis, even if alcohol didn’t cause your pancreatitis.
If you developed pancreatitis from drinking too much alcohol, you should stop drinking altogether. For help dealing with alcohol dependency, talk to your doctor or visit CCBT for online support.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.