By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Supportive therapy is the main approach to managing pancreatitis, but the exact therapeutic approach depends on how severe the symptoms are. Acute pancreatitis usually requires hospital treatment, while the chronic form of the condition will cause symptoms that vary form person to person, depending on the underlying cause.
- Pain relief (usually morphine) is administered to ease abdominal pain.
- Intravenous (IV) fluids are administered to replenish bodily fluids and prevent dehydration. In severe cases, patients can develop a dangerously low blood pressure due to fluid loss causing the blood volume to plummet. This is referred to as hypovolemic shock and the use of IV fluids can prevent this from occurring.
- Oxygen is provided through a nasal tube to ensure the patient’s vital organs are receiving adequate amounts of oxygen. In severe cases, ventilation may be required to support breathing.
- While a patient is recovering, they are carefully monitored for signs of any complications and provided with fluid and oxygen. Typically, the condition improves within a week to ten days.
- If complications do occur, further additional treatment may be required and recovery may be significantly extended.
- Although no diet restrictions are placed on patients with mild acute pancreatitis, they may still be advised not to eat because the digestion of solid food can strain the pancreas. Instead, patients may need to receive their nutrients via a feeding tube, which is inserted into the nose and passed down to the stomach. Depending on how severe the condition is, patients may have to be fed in this manner for a few days or more.
- Once a patient is stabilized and seems to be recovering, the underlying cause of the acute pancreatitis is treated. One of the most common causes of this condition is gallstones.
- In cases where gallstones are the underlying cause, a procedure called endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography may be performed. This involves an endoscope and surgical instruments being passed into the digestive system so the gallstone can be removed. Alternatively, surgical removal of the gall bladder may be advised. This does not have any major impact on health, but means patients may find it more difficult to digest fatty or spicy foods.
- Patients who have had acute pancreatitis are told to completely avoid drinking any alcohol for six months, irrespective of what caused their condition. This is because alcohol can further damage the pancreas during recovery.
- The treatment of chronic pancreatitis varies from person to person depending on what the underlying cause of the condition is. Overall, the aims are to address the underlying cause, provide relief from any pain, correct problems interfering with the absorption of food and prevent weight loss.
- Patients are encouraged to prevent any further attacks of pancreatitis by adopting certain lifestyle changes that will minimize the risk of any further pancreatic damage.
- Medications that may be prescribed include painkillers, synthetic pancreatic enzymes and insulin.
- In some cases, surgery may be recommended to drain any pancreatic cysts that have formed or to remove the most damaged parts of the organ.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Sep 10, 2014