There is no specific treatment for acute pancreatitis but the condition usually resolves independently within seven days.
While a patient is recovering, they are carefully monitored for signs of any complications and provided with fluid and oxygen. If complications do occur, further additional treatment may be required and recovery may be significantly extended.
An outline of the usual treatment approaches taken to manage patients with this condition is given below:
- 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.
- The body can get very dehydrated during a bout of acute pancreatitis and bodily fluids will need to be replenished using a tube that is connected to the patient’s vein. These fluids are referred to as intravenous (IV) fluids.
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.
- Strong painkillers such as morphine are usually needed to treat the severe abdominal pain that acute pancreatitis can cause. These painkillers can cause drowsiness and a lack of alertness.
- Once a patient is stabilized and seems to be recovering, the underlying cause of the acute pancreatitis is treated. Two of the most common causes of this condition are gallstones and drinking alcohol.
- 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 necessary. 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.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc