Acute pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis is when the pancreas becomes swollen. It’s very painful and has to be treated in hospital.

Get an urgent GP appointment or go to A&E if:

  • you have a severe dull pain in the middle of your tummy just under the ribs
  • the pain moves to your back and the left shoulder blade

The pain can come on after eating a large meal or 6 to 12 hours after drinking a lot of alcohol.

These are all signs of acute pancreatitis which is very serious and can be fatal if not treated.

Other signs include:

  • lying back makes the pain worse
  • sitting forward and curling up eases the pain
  • your tummy feels swollen and tender
  • you have a high temperature of 38C or more
  • you’re feeling sick or vomiting
  • you have diarrhoea or indigestion
  • your face, body and the white of your eyes look yellow (jaundice)

How acute pancreatitis is diagnosed

Your GP will refer you to hospital.

You’ll have blood tests and scans so the doctors can see your pancreas. If you have acute pancreatitis you’ll have to stay in hospital.

How acute pancreatitis is treated

The treatment is rest and no solid food to get the inflammation down.

You’ll have to stay in hospital for 5 to 10 days.

Acute pancreatitis is very serious and you’ll be closely monitored.

You will:

  • get pain relief
  • fluids through a drip
  • oxygen through a tube
  • have a tube through your nose into your stomach to give you liquid food

If your pancreatitis is caused by gallstones you might need an operation to remove them.

Preventing acute pancreatitis

The 2 most common causes for acute pancreatitis are:

  • gallstones - more common in women
  • heavy drinking, for example binge drinking - more common in men

You can help prevent getting it again by:

Acute pancreatitis is more common in middle-aged or older people.

What is the pancreas?

The pancreas is a small organ that helps you digest food and drink. It’s behind your stomach under your ribs. It also produces insulin which regulates your blood sugar levels.

Call 111

If you can’t speak to your GP or don’t know what to do next.

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