Center for Digestive Diseases

UNM Hospitals Center
for Digestive Diseases

1001 Martin Luther King Ave. NE
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87106

(505)272-2530 or

UNMH: (505)272-6839
CDD: (505)925-7849


What is Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is a process in which inflammation develops in the pancreas, which is an organ in your upper abdomen that plays a role in digestion and endocrine secretion.  If the inflammation begins suddenly, it is called acute pancreatitis.  Inflammation and damage that persists to some degree for many years is called chronic pancreatitis.  The severity of acute pancreatitis ranges from a mild, self-limited disease to a catastrophic one with life-threatening complications. 

What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?

The most common symptom of pancreatitis is pain located in the middle part of the upper abdomen that sometimes radiates through to the back.  Nausea and vomiting is also common.  These symptoms are often made worse by eating.  Patients may have other nonspecific symptoms of inflammation, such as fevers, elevated heart rate, and low blood pressure.

What causes pancreatitis?

The two most common causes of pancreatitis are excessive alcohol consumption and gallstone disease.   Only those gallstones that travel out of the gallbladder, down the common bile duct (CBD), and block the drainage of the main pancreatic duct have the potential to cause pancreatitis.  There are other less-common causes of pancreatitis.  These include idiosyncratic reaction to certain medications or toxins, some metabolic abnormalities (e.g. significantly elevated triglycerides, elevated blood calcium levels), trauma to the pancreas, certain anatomic abnormalities, infections, vasculitis, and rare genetic mutations.

How is pancreatitis diagnosed?

Multiple features are necessary to make the diagnosis of pancreatitis.   In addition to the symptoms described above, there needs to be a significant elevation in the amylase and lipase levels in the blood, which are enzymes that are made by the pancreas.  Also, findings of inflammation are usually seen on radiology imaging, such as a CT scan.

What is the treatment for pancreatitis?

There is not a specific medication to treat pancreatitis.  The main treatment approach is “supportive care.”  Patients need aggressive intravenous fluid hydration and are not allowed to eat.  Often pain medication and anti-nausea medication are helpful in controlling symptoms.  If a gallstone in the common bile duct has caused the pancreatitis, the stone may need to be removed from the duct by an endoscopy procedure called an ERCP.