An estimated 50,000 to 80,000 cases of acute pancreatitis occur in the United States each year. Acute pancreatitis is described as the sudden inflamation of the pancreas. Some patients have more than one attack of acute pancreatitis but recover fully after each one. Most cases of acute pancreatitis in the United States are due to gallstones or heavy alcohol consumption. Other causes include certain prescription drugs, trauma or surgery to the abdomen, or abnormalities of the pancreas or intestine. In rare cases, the disease may result from infections, such as mumps. In about 15 percent of cases of acute pancreatitis, the cause is unknown.
What Are the Symptoms of AP?
Acute pancreatitis usually begins with pain in the upper abdomen that may last for a few days. The pain is often severe. It may be constant pain, just in the abdomen, or it may radiate to the back and/or other areas. The pain may be sudden and intense, or it may begin as a mild pain that is aggravated by eating but slowly and progressively becomes worse. The abdomen may be swollen and very tender. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fever, and an increased pulse rate. The person often feels and looks very sick.
About 20 percent of cases of acute pancreatitis are severe. The patient may become dehydrated and have low blood pressure. Sometimes the patient’s heart, lungs, or kidneys fail. In the most severe cases, bleeding can occur in the pancreas, leading to shock and sometimes even death.
If severe abdominal pain develops that is different than previous types of pain, or that does not get betting within a couple of hours, the person may need to be evaluated for acute pancreatitis.