FAQs

ACUTE PANCREATITIS

  • How common is acute pancreatitis?
    It is difficult to know how common acute pancreatitis is because it is thought that many cases are mild, brief and may go unrecognized.  Even more severe cases may sometimes be difficult to diagnose if the symptoms are unusual.  This is particularly true in children who often do not have the classic symptoms seen in adults.  The best current estimate is that about 5 out of every 100,000 children may experience acute pancreatitis in any given year.  Adults are at a higher risk for pancreatitis and some estimates put the incidence as high as 35 per 100,000 people per year.

 

  • What causes pancreatitis?There are many causes of acute pancreatitis and many times it is impossibile to identify a cause even with a complete and thorough medical evaluation.  This is termed “idiopathic” pancreatitis , meaning that the underlying cause remains unknown.  When a cause can be identified, common explanations include blockage of the pancreas by a gallstone, hig blood calcium or triglyceride levels, trauma to the pancreas, viral infections and specific drugs.

 

  • Is there a cure for pancreatitis?There is no cure for acute pancreatitis.  Treatments focus on supportive care including pain management and monitoring for complications of the disease.  Most acute pancreatitis in children tends to be mild to moderate and symptoms may only last a few days.  Severe pancreatitis is more common in adults and can be quite dangerous, sometimes requiring admission to an intensive care unit for close monitoring and treatment.

 

  • How do we know if pancreatitis is getting better?The best sign that acute pancreatitis is resolving is decreasing pain and an improved appetite.  Blood tests such as the serum lipase level may continue to go up and down for some time and do not necessarily indicate that the pancreatitis is getting better or worse.  Imaging test may also take a while to return to normal.

 

  • Does acute pancreatitis lead to pancreatic cancer?No.  There have not been any studies which link acute pancreatitis to an elevated risk for pancreatic cancer.  However, in cases where inflammation persists for months or years and leads to scarring of the pancreas (chronic pancreatitis), there may be an elevated lifetime risk for the development of pancreatic cancer.

 

  • My child had acute pancreatitis and has now recovered,  What are the chances they will get pancreatitis again?Most children who are diagnosed with acute pancreatitis for the first time will make a full recovery and now go on to develop any further episodes.

CHRONIC PANCREATITIS

  • What are the signs of chronic pancreatitis?

    Most people with chronic pancreatitis have persistent upper abdominal pain although a few have very little pain at all.  Pain may get worse for no clear reason or may become worse with eating or drinking.  Other symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include weight loss despite normal food intake, greasy or oily stools and a decreased quality of life due to chronic pain.

 

  • What causes chronic pancreatitis?In many cases, the underlying cause for chronic pancreatitis is unknown.  Some adults develop permanent pancreatic scarring from heavy alcohol or tobacco use. Children who are not exposed to these drugs may develop chronic pancreatitis from familial or genetic causes.  Some (but not all) of these genetic causes can now be tested for with a blood test.  Other causes of chronic pancreatitis include autoimmune diseases, metabolic diseases, cystic fibrosis and anatomic abnormalities to the drainage system from the pancreas and liver.

 

  • What types of monitoring should be done in people who have been diagnosed with Chronic pancreatitis?It is important to monitor people with chronic pancreatitis for signs of poor digestion.  The pancreas makes important enzymes to help with the digestion of fats, carbohydrates and protein and people with chronic pancreatitis are at a higher risk for poor growth, weight loss, and vitamin deficiencies (particularly fat-soluble vitamins) if they are unable to digest food properly.  People with chronic pancreatitis should monitor their stools and report any persistent diarrhea or greasy, oily stools.  When necessary, doctors may test the stool or perform other tests to track the function of the pancreas.  Monitoring of fat-soluble vitamin levels in the blood may also be required.  People who have had chronic pancreatitis for a long time may need monitoring to screen for development of diabetes because the pancreas is also where the body produces insulin and over time the insulin producing cells in the pancreas can become damaged by chronic inflammation.

 

  • Is there a cure for chronic pancreatitis?Unfortunately, there is no cure for chronic pancreatitis.  Therapies for chronic pancreatitis focus on pain management and monitoring for complications of the disease.  There are various approches to pain management and the option which is best for any individual person will depend o nthe frequency and severity of their pain.  Long-term use of opiate pain medications should be avoided due to the risks of dependence and side effects.  In cases where there appears to be obsturction to the normal drainage of pancreas secretions, endoscopic procedures such as ERCP {endoscopic retrodrade cholangiopancreatography) or surgery may be indicated.  In rare cases, removal of the pancreas may be necessary when other tretment approaches have failed and chronic, severe pain is present.

 

  • How can I learn more about chronic pancreatitis?The best place to learn more about chronic pancreatitis is from a medical professional who commonly  treats the condition.  They will be able to help sort through all of the available information and determine which treament approaches may be best suited to your particular situation.  More general educational information can be gained from this site and other organizations such as The National Panreas Foundation.