Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, a gland located behind the stomach. The pancreas produces enzymes that aid in digestion and produce hormones key in processing of sugar (glucose) in the foods we eat. Normally these enzymes do their work outside the pancreas. However, when they become activated inside the pancreas these digestive agents can damage and inflame the organ itself.

Gallstones in the bile duct may block the pancreatic duct ‒ a common cause of acute (sudden onset) pancreatitis. Other potential reasons for the development of pancreatitis include alcohol abuse, abdominal surgery, family history, infection and cystic fibrosis, to name a few. Advanced GI procedures such as endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) are often used to detect and remove gallstones that may induce pancreatitis. At NorthShore, our advanced therapeutic endoscopy team is investigating ways to enhance the safety and efficacy of this invaluable diagnostic and therapeutic procedure.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis affects everyone differently. Common symptoms may include:

  • abdominal pain that may radiate to the back
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • jaundice (a yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes)
  • unexplained weight loss

The abdominal pain associated with pancreatitis may worsen after eating.

Your gastroenterologist will ask about your medical history and conduct a physical exam. Blood tests may be recommended to measure certain enzyme levels that are often indicative of pancreatitis. You may also need to undergo imaging tests such as an abdominal ultrasound or CT or MRI scan to visually determine if gallstones are the source of your pancreatitis.

More sophisticated GI testing may be required. These tests include endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) and ERCP. At NorthShore, our advanced therapeutic endoscopists perform these minimally-invasive procedures, which use a lighted flexible tube and x-ray to examine the bile and pancreatic ducts for gallstones or other abnormalities.

Treatment for Pancreatitis

Depending on the severity of your pancreatitis, your physician may recommend hospitalization to stabilize and manage your condition. If gallstones are found to be blocking a bile or pancreatic duct, they can be removed with ERCP. Laparoscopic surgery to remove the gallbladder is the primary treatment for symptomatic gallstones and may be recommended to prevent a recurrence of gallstone-induced pancreatitis. In certain circumstances, medication can be a viable alternative to gallbladder surgery.

For non-gallstone-related pancreatitis, your physician may recommend behavioral and lifestyle modifications, including alcoholism treatment and dietary changes. Pancreatic enzyme supplements may help aid digestion, especially for chronic pancreatitis.

For More Information

For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our gastroenterologists, please call 847.657.1900.

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