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An ongoing acute pancreatitis episode requires urgent medical attention and appropriate treatment. The well-trained doctors and specialists at Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital offer multiple treatment approaches for acute pancreatitis, including careful monitoring, hospitalization, and when necessary, gallstone removal surgery. In the latter case, postoperative care is also provided to ensure a safe and speedy recovery.
Acute pancreatitis is a severe condition defined by acute inflammation in the pancreas, which occurs suddenly and can last for a few days. Acute pancreatitis can be cured in about a week, sometimes without treatment, but in extremely severe cases it can be fatal.
The pancreas is a long flattened gland located in the upper left abdomen between the stomach and the spine. Part of the pancreas is surrounded by the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). The pancreas is both an exocrine gland and an endocrine gland, meaning that it excretes enzymes that help support digestion and it controls blood sugar levels in the body.
Acute pancreatitis patients are admitted to the hospital and strictly monitored.
In most cases, patients are able to leave the hospital after 5-10 days. In extremely severe cases, patients are admitted to special care units for specific treatment of complications.
The initial treatment usually includes:
After an acute pancreatitis episode, steps should be taken to help promote recovery, including avoiding alcohol, not smoking, eating a low-fat diet filled with fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins, and increasing fluid consumption.
Also after an acute episode, the underlying cause is treated:
In severe cases, additional complications may include:
Classification of acute pancreatitis is based on severity (i.e. local and systemic complications):
No complications are present in mild pancreatitis. Infectious complications and persistent organ failure are present in severe and critical pancreatitis cases.
Symptoms of acute pancreatitis are:
To diagnose acute pancreatitis, a doctor will perform a physical examination and question the patient about the symptoms and health history. Tests used to diagnose pancreatitis include:
Risk factors associated with acute pancreatitis include:
Studies show that certain combinations of risk factors play an especially important role in the occurrence of acute pancreatitis.
Acute pancreatitis is caused by the unexplained activation of digestive enzymes in the pancreas, which results in pancreatic cell irritation.
The exact cause that leads to the auto-digestion of the pancreas is not known, but it may be related to a blockage in the biliary ducts or pancreatic duct.
Gallstones are a common background condition that can cause acute pancreatitis. These episodes tend to occur after a large meal, when gallstones move from the gallbladder and block access from the pancreas to the digestive tract.
Massive alcohol consumption is another frequent cause of acute pancreatitis. It is believed that alcohol interferes with normal enzyme activity, causing the digestion of the pancreas itself. Alcohol-related acute pancreatitis usually develops six to 10 hours after massive alcohol ingestion.
Other less common conditions which could cause acute pancreatitis are:
Alternative treatment cannot cure acute pancreatitis, but some alternative therapies, like yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, or acupuncture performed by a specialist, can help with pain management during an acute episode.
Some Chinese herbs may be effective, but there is no strong clinical evidence to support it.
Sufferers of acute pancreatitis should not attempt self-treatment.
A healthy lifestyle can help prevent acute pancreatitis.
Because gallstones are a main cause, doctors encourage consuming a lot of fruits and vegetables (at least five servings per day), whole grains, and healthy fats.
High cholesterol foods like pork, sausages, fast food, butter, and cakes should be avoided.
Increased weight is a predisposing factor of pancreatitis. Daily exercise and a healthy balanced diet are both suggested.
Alcohol should be consumed in moderation.
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