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Pancreatitis Care and Treatment

Why Choose Treatment for Pancreatitis at University of Colorado Hospital?

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University of Colorado Hospital has an 11-state referral base, which includes the Rocky Mountain region and beyond, to investigate and treat the most complex disorders of the pancreas.

Our experienced doctors provide excellent care for patients with pancreatic diseases. UCH specialists have extensive training in advanced endoscopy (procedures that allow your doctor to look inside your body using tubes with cameras). These experts perform a large number of endoscopic procedures each year – such as those used in treating certain kinds of pancreatitis – ensuring the best possible outcomes.

Visit our Pancreas and Biliary Center web page

What is Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, a large gland behind the stomach. The pancreas helps to digest fats, proteins and carbohydrates in food by releasing enzymes into the small intestine. The enzymes travel through the pancreatic duct, which is a small tube. Pancreatitis causes the enzymes to become active inside the pancreas. These enzymes start to break the pancreas down.

Acute (short term) pancreatitis affects about 80,000 people each year. Gallstones or heavy alcohol use are the most common causes. There are numerous other causes that include, but are not limited to:

  • Metabolic diseases (such as diabetes)
  • Medications
  • Heredity

Patient Education

Living with Pancreatitis

If you have acute pancreatitis, you may experience:

  • Pain that is not relieved by medications prescribed by your doctor
  • Nausea and vomiting that lead to dehydration
  • Fever

If these occur, be sure to contact your primary care doctor, urgent care center or emergency department. Many times you can manage the pain on an outpatient basis. However, in some cases, upper abdominal pain caused by pancreatitis may require hospitalization.

 

If you have chronic (long term) pancreatitis, you may have frequent bouts of pain. This will require the advice of a gastroenterologist, pain specialist or surgeon.

 

Pancreatitis: Getting a Second Opinion

You can request a second opinion from one of our pancreas specialists on your condition if you are not satisfied with the care you have received or if your questions have not been addressed to your satisfaction. Consider a second opinion if:

  • You need more information about your condition
  • You want access to expert endoscopic or surgical procedures
  • You are interested in ongoing research for your illness

 

Additional Pancreatitis Resources

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse

National Pancreas Foundation

American Gastroenterological Association

American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy

Tests & Treatments

Tests

Your doctor will do a physical examination and take your medical history, if you have symptoms of pancreatitis, including:

  • Soreness and swelling in the abdomen
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Rapid pulse
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dehydration

Blood tests will show if you have abnormal levels of enzymes produced by the pancreas, an important sign of pancreatitis. You may also have abnormal levels of glucose, sodium and other substances in the blood.

 

Other tests for pancreatitis

  • Abdominal ultrasound – used to look for gallstones, which can cause pancreatitis.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) – this involves the insertion of a tube down the throat and into the stomach to look for gallstones or other masses, as well as possible damage to the pancreas.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scans – this imaging type shows damage to or inflammation of the pancreas.
  • Stool samples – are analyzed to measure levels of an enzyme produced by the pancreas.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – this imaging type allows visual inspection of the pancreatic duct.
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) – This involves the passage of a flexible tube with a light and camera on the end through the mouth to the openings ("ducts") of the pancreas and liver. Contrast dye is injected into the ducts to identify any blockages from stones or scar tissue.

 

Treatments

Treatments for acute pancreatitis include:

  • Intravenous fluids without having anything to eat or drink while the pancreas “rests”
  • Pain medications
  • ERCP to locate and remove stones from the liver duct
  • Surgery to remove gallbladder stones

Technology for Treating Pancreatitis

Technologies used for treating pancreatitis at UCH provide a minimally invasive option. The hospital is investigating the use of miniature endoscopes that can be directly inserted into the pancreatic duct during ERCP. This may help to improve the images of the pancreas for diagnosis and therapy. Surgery is not required.

 

Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) produces excellent images of the pancreas. These images help detect early cancers and signs of chronic pancreatitis. Doctors also use EUS to perform nerve blocks that relieve stomach pain. The technique helps experts at UCH to understand the causes of acute pancreatitis and to manage the disease.

Your Medical Team

The integrative team that treats acute pancreatitis at University of Colorado Hospital includes specialists in internal medicine, gastroenterology, radiology, interventional endoscopy, general surgery, and nutrition services.

 

If you are hospitalized for this condition, your treatment approaches and the specialists that you see will depend on what caused your pancreatitis and how severe it is. Outpatient evaluations are generally with a gastroenterologist.

 

Pancreatitis Specialists

  • Family practitioner – a doctor who is trained to care for your entire family.
  • Gastroenterologist – a doctor trained to diagnose and treat disorders of the digestive system.
  • General surgeon – a doctor who performs surgery on abdominal organs, the thyroid gland and hernias.
  • Internist – a doctor trained to diagnose, treat and prevent diseases that affect adults.
  • Radiologist – a doctor who diagnoses diseases by taking and interpreting medical images.

 

Other Pancreatitis Staff

  • Medical assistant – a provider who assists doctors and nurses with administrative and clinical tasks.
  • Nurse practitioner – a registered nurse who has completed advanced training in a specialty.
  • Nutritionist – a provider who helps to prevent and treat illness by planning healthy meals for patients, encouraging healthy eating habits and making necessary changes to diet.

Pancreatitis Research

University of Colorado Hospital is performing endoscopy-related research in the diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic diseases. Research areas include:

  • Detection and treatment of pancreatic cancer and chronic pancreatitis
  • Changes in pancreas anatomy
  • Minimally invasive therapies using endoscopic ultrasound to help bypass blockages in the ducts of the pancreas