Treatment for pancreatitis usually requires hospitalization. Once your condition is stabilized in the hospital and inflammation in the pancreas is controlled, doctors can treat the underlying cause of your pancreatitis.
Hospitalization to stabilize pancreatitis
If you're experiencing pancreatitis, your doctor may admit you to the hospital for care.
Initial treatments to help control the inflammation in your pancreas and make you more comfortable may include:
Fasting. You'll stop eating for a couple of days in the hospital in order to give your pancreas a chance to recover.
Once the inflammation in your pancreas is controlled, you may begin drinking clear liquids and eating bland foods. With time, you can go back to your normal diet.
If your pancreatitis persists and you still experience pain when eating, your doctor may recommend a feeding tube to help you get nutrition.
- Pain medications. Pancreatitis can cause severe pain. Your health care team will give you medications to help control the pain.
- Intravenous (IV) fluids. As your body devotes energy and fluids to repairing your pancreas, you may become dehydrated. For this reason, you'll receive extra fluids through a vein in your arm during your hospital stay.
How long you stay in the hospital will depend on your situation. Some people recover quickly and others develop complications that require a longer hospitalization.
Treating the underlying cause of pancreatitis
Once your pancreatitis is brought under control, your health care team can treat the underlying cause of your pancreatitis.
Treatment will depend on the cause of your pancreatitis, but examples of treatment may include:
Procedures to remove bile duct obstructions. Pancreatitis caused by a narrowed or blocked bile duct may require procedures to open or widen the bile duct.
A procedure called endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) uses a long tube with a camera on the end to examine your pancreas and bile ducts. The tube is passed down your throat, and the camera sends pictures of your digestive system to a monitor.
ERCP can aid in diagnosing problems in the bile duct and in making repairs.
- Gallbladder surgery. If gallstones caused your pancreatitis, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove your gallbladder (cholecystectomy).
- Pancreas surgery. Surgery may be necessary to drain fluid from your pancreas or to remove diseased tissue.
- Treatment for alcohol dependence. Drinking several drinks a day over many years can cause pancreatitis. If this is the cause of your pancreatitis, your doctor may recommend you enter a treatment program for alcohol addiction. Continuing to drink may worsen your pancreatitis and lead to serious complications.
Additional treatments for chronic pancreatitis
Chronic pancreatitis may require additional treatments, depending on your situation. Other treatments for chronic pancreatitis may include:
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Pain management. Chronic pancreatitis can cause persistent abdominal pain. Your doctor may recommend medications to control your pain and may refer you to a pain specialist.
Severe pain may be relieved with surgery to block nerves that send pain signals from the pancreas to the brain.
- Enzymes to improve digestion. Pancreatic enzyme supplements can help your body break down and process the nutrients in the foods you eat. Pancreatic enzymes are taken in tablet form with each meal.
- Changes to your diet. Your doctor may refer you to a dietitian who can help you plan low-fat meals that are high in nutrients.
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- Pancreatitis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/pancreatitis. Accessed July 17, 2013.
- Understanding pancreatitis. American Gastroenterological Association. http://www.gastro.org/patient-center/digestive-conditions/pancreatitis. Accessed July 17, 2013.
- Sareen S, et al. Yoga: A tool for improving the quality of life in chronic pancreatitis. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2007;13:391.
- Picco MF (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Fla. Aug. 4, 2013.
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