Doctors can use different methods to diagnose for pancreatitis. Below are the commonly used approaches:
• Blood tests
A marked increase in amylase and lipase (digestive enzymes produced by your pancreas) in your bloodstream typically signifies an inflamed pancreas.1,2
• Stool tests
Doctors may need a stool sample to check for the percentage of fat absorbed by your intestines. If there is an abnormally high rate, it may indicate that not enough pancreatic enzymes are being produced to absorb the fat into your body.3
• Imaging tests
Doctors typically perform an abdominal ultrasound first to check for gallstones because they can be detected right away.
For a more thorough view of your pancreas, an endoscope may be inserted into your mouth to reach your small intestine, which will then take ultrasound images. A computerized tomography (CT) scan may be taken as well.4
Fasting Is the First Step of Treatment
If you have just been diagnosed with pancreatitis, your doctor will require you to fast for a couple of days to help your pancreas rest and recover from the inflammation. You'll only be allowed to drink water to keep yourself hydrated, and an IV filled with nutrients may be administered to make up for your lack of food.5
When you start to feel better, you may resume eating normally again. This time though, you will need to start making positive lifestyle choices to help prevent the condition from becoming chronic.
Treatment for Pancreatitis May Require Invasive Procedures
Mild pancreatitis may go away on its own6 through healthy dietary changes. But if your situation requires immediate treatment, your doctor will most likely perform endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). ERCP uses an endoscope that is inserted through your mouth to reach your small intestine. From there, the endoscope can perform a variety of tasks depending on the circumstances. Below are the common ERCP procedures:7
• Sphincterotomy: The endoscope makes a tiny cut on the muscle that surrounds the affected duct to widen the path. If a pseudocyst is present, it will need to be drained as well.
• Gallstone removal: Using a tiny basket, the endoscope will be able to remove gallstones blocking the pancreatic or bile ducts.
• Stent placement: A stent is a tiny piece of plastic or metal inserted in a narrowed pancreatic or bile duct to help keep the pathway open.
• Balloon dilatation: If a duct has completely closed, a balloon is inflated at the site of the blockage to open the passageway again. A stent is placed afterwards for support.8
Ironically, ERCP may result in pancreatitis, probably due to the endoscope moving around your digestive system. Before you undergo ERCP, discuss your concerns with your doctor and look for other alternatives.9
In life-threatening situations, surgery may be the only way to help you recover. In necrotizing pancreatitis, for example, pancreatic tissue slowly dies and may become infected. To make things worse, an abscess may form at the site of the necrotizing tissue. In this case, your doctor may need to surgically remove the necrotic tissue and drain the abscess.10
Once you've gone through ERCP or surgery and have started recovering, it's important to take the necessary steps to lower your risk for pancreatitis in the long run. The next page in this guide contains different methods to help you manage your condition and live a healthy lifestyle.