Treatment for Pancreatitis

How do health care professionals treat pancreatitis?

Treatment for acute or chronic pancreatitis may include

  • a hospital stay to treat dehydration with intravenous (IV) fluids and, if you can swallow them, fluids by mouth
  • pain medicine, and antibiotics by mouth or through an IV if you have an infection in your pancreas
  • a low-fat diet, or nutrition by feeding tube or IV if you can’t eat

Your doctor may send you to a gastroenterologist or surgeon for one of the following treatments, depending on the type of pancreatitis that you have.

Acute pancreatitis

Mild acute pancreatitis usually goes away in a few days with rest and treatment. If your pancreatitis is more severe, your treatment may also include:

Surgery. Your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the gallbladder, called cholecystectomy, if gallstones cause your pancreatitis. Having surgery within a few days after you are admitted to the hospital lowers the chance of complications. If you have severe pancreatitis, your doctor may advise delaying surgery to first treat complications.

Procedures. Your doctor or specialist will drain fluid in your abdomen if you have an abscess or infected pseudocyst, or a large pseudocyst causing pain or bleeding. Your doctor may remove damaged tissue from your pancreas.

Endoscopic Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). Doctors use ERCP to treat both acute and chronic pancreatitis. ERCP combines upper gastrointestinal endoscopy and x-rays to treat narrowing or blockage of a bile or pancreatic duct. Your gastroenterologist may use ERCP to remove gallstones blocking the bile or pancreatic ducts.

Chronic pancreatitis

Treatment for chronic pancreatitis may help relieve pain, improve how well the pancreas works, and manage complications.

Your doctor may prescribe or provide the following:

Medicines and vitamins. Your doctor may give you enzyme pills to help with digestion, or vitamins A, D, E, and K if you have malabsorption. He or she may also give you vitamin B-12 shots if you need them.

Treatment for diabetes. Chronic pancreatitis may cause diabetes. If you get diabetes, your doctor and health care team will work with you to create an eating plan and a routine of medicine, blood glucose monitoring, and regular checkups.

Surgery. Your doctor may recommend surgery to relieve pressure or blockage in your pancreatic duct, or to remove a damaged or infected part of your pancreas. Surgery is done in a hospital, where you may have to stay a few days. In patients who do not get better with other treatments, surgeons may perform pancreatic islet transplantation following surgery to remove your whole pancreas.

Procedures. Your doctor may suggest a nerve block, which is a shot of numbing medicine through your skin and directly into nerves that carry the pain message from your pancreas. If you have stones blocking your pancreatic duct, your doctor may use a procedure to break up and remove the stones.

A health care professional talking with an older female patient who is lying in a hospital bed.
Treatment for acute or chronic pancreatitis may include a hospital stay to treat dehydration and prescribe pain medicine, antibiotics, and nutrition.

How can I help manage my pancreatitis?

Stop drinking alcohol

Health care professionals strongly advise people with pancreatitis to stop drinking alcohol, even if your pancreatitis is mild or in the early stages. Continuing to drink alcohol when you have acute pancreatitis can lead to

  • more episodes of acute pancreatitis
  • chronic pancreatitis

When people with chronic pancreatitis caused by alcohol use continue to drink alcohol, the condition is more likely to lead to severe complications and even death.

Talk with your health care professional if you need help to stop drinking alcohol.

Stop smoking

Health care professionals strongly advise people with pancreatitis to stop smoking, even if your pancreatitis is mild or in the early stages. Smoking with acute pancreatitis, especially if it’s caused by alcohol use, greatly raises the chances that your pancreatitis will become chronic. Smoking with pancreatitis also may raise your risk of pancreatic cancer.

Talk with your health care professional if you need help to stop smoking.

How can I help prevent pancreatitis?

You can’t prevent pancreatitis, but you can take steps to help you stay healthy.

Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight safely

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a healthy weight—or losing weight if needed—can help to

  • make your pancreas work better
  • lower your chance of getting gallstones, a leading cause of pancreatitis
  • prevent obesity—a risk factor for pancreatitis
  • prevent diabetes—a risk factor for pancreatitis
A couple walking outdoors on a sunny day.
Keeping a healthy weight—or losing weight if needed—can help lower your chances of getting gallstones, a leading cause of pancreatitis.

Avoid alcohol use

Alcohol use can cause acute and chronic pancreatitis. Talk with your health care professional if you need help to stop drinking alcohol.

Avoid smoking

Smoking is a common risk factor for pancreatitis—and the chances of getting pancreatitis are even higher in people who smoke and drink alcohol. Talk with your health care professional if you need help to stop smoking.

November 2017
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.

The NIDDK would like to thank:
Christopher E. Forsmark, M.D., University of Florida College of Medicine