Acute Pancreatitis

Disease database

Acute pancreatitis is a serious condition characterized by inflammation of the pancreas. It can cause severe abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, fever, rapid pulse, swollen and tender abdomen, elevated heart rate, jaundice, low blood pressure, oily and foul-smelling stools. Understanding the symptoms and seeking prompt medical attention is crucial for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Recognizing the Symptoms

Severe abdominal pain is one of the primary symptoms of acute pancreatitis. The pain is usually felt in the upper abdomen and can radiate to the back. It may worsen after eating or drinking, especially foods high in fat. Nausea and vomiting are also common symptoms, often accompanied by a loss of appetite.

Fever and rapid pulse are signs of inflammation and infection. If you experience these symptoms along with severe abdominal pain, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. A swollen and tender abdomen is another indication of acute pancreatitis. The area may feel firm to the touch and may be accompanied by bloating.

Jaundice, characterized by yellowing of the skin and eyes, can occur in severe cases of acute pancreatitis. This is due to the blockage of the bile duct, which leads to the buildup of bilirubin in the body. Low blood pressure is another potential symptom, as the inflammation can affect the circulatory system.

Oily and foul-smelling stools, known as steatorrhea, can occur when the pancreas is unable to properly digest fats. This is because the enzymes necessary for fat digestion are not being produced in sufficient quantities. If you notice these changes in your stool, it is important to consult a healthcare professional.

Diagnosis and Treatment

When seeking medical attention for suspected acute pancreatitis, your healthcare provider will perform a physical examination and may order additional tests to confirm the diagnosis. Blood tests can help assess pancreatic enzyme levels and detect signs of inflammation. Imaging tests, such as an ultrasound or CT scan, may be used to visualize the pancreas and surrounding structures.

The treatment for acute pancreatitis depends on the severity of the condition. In mild cases, treatment may involve supportive care, such as pain management, intravenous fluids, and a temporary restriction of oral intake to allow the pancreas to rest. In more severe cases, hospitalization may be required, and additional interventions, such as the placement of a feeding tube or drainage of fluid from the pancreas, may be necessary.

In cases where gallstones are the underlying cause of acute pancreatitis, surgery may be required to remove the gallbladder. This can help prevent future episodes of pancreatitis. Lifestyle changes, such as adopting a low-fat diet and avoiding alcohol, may also be recommended to reduce the risk of recurrence.

Prevention and Management

While acute pancreatitis can be a serious condition, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk and manage the disease:

  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption, as it can contribute to the development of pancreatitis.
  • Follow a healthy diet that is low in fat and rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • If you have gallstones, work with your healthcare provider to develop a plan for their management.
  • Take any prescribed medications as directed and attend regular check-ups to monitor your condition.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you experience symptoms of acute pancreatitis.

It is important to remember that each case of acute pancreatitis is unique, and treatment plans may vary. Consulting with a healthcare professional is essential for proper diagnosis and management of the condition.


Acute pancreatitis is a serious condition that requires prompt medical attention. Recognizing the symptoms, such as severe abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, fever, rapid pulse, swollen and tender abdomen, elevated heart rate, jaundice, low blood pressure, oily and foul-smelling stools, is crucial for early diagnosis and treatment. By understanding the symptoms and taking preventive measures, you can reduce your risk of developing acute pancreatitis and manage the condition effectively. Remember to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice and guidance.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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