Treatment for Pancreatitis

The goals of treatment for pancreatitis are to reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and reduce the risk for complications and further attacks. Patients who have a history of pancreatitis should avoid alcohol and large meals, and should eat a healthy diet that is high in carbohydrates and protein and low in fat.

Damage to the pancreas (e.g., in chronic cases) may prevent secretion of digestive enzymes and lead to malabsorption. Patients who experience malabsorption may be instructed to take pancreatic enzyme supplements with each meal. This

Pancreatic enzyme supplements (e.g., proteolytic enzymes, lipase, amylase) are enteric-coated, which means that the enzymes are protected by a special coating so that they do not start working before they reach the small intestine. These supplements are available by prescription.

Acute pancreatitis usually resolves on its own in about 3 to 7 days, as long as complications do not develop. During an acute attack, the patient is closely monitored; analgesics are used to reduce pain; fluids are administered through an IV (i.e., intravenously); and eating and drinking are restricted to limit activity of the pancreas. In severe cases, total parenteral nutrition (intravenous feeding) may be necessary.

In March 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved pancrelipase (Viokace) to treat chronic pancreatitis in adults. This medication is used in combination with a proton pump inhibitor and also is approved for adults who have had part of their pancreas removed. Other pancreatic enzyme supplements approved by the FDA include Creon and Zenpep. Ultresa is approved for use in children and adults with cystic fibrosis who cannot digest food normally because the pancreas does not produce adequate pancreatic enzymes.

Patients who develop complications may require additional treatment, including the following:

  • Antibiotics (to treat infection; also may be administered to prevent infection [called prophylactic antibiotics])
  • Dialysis (to treat kidney failure)
  • Insulin (to treat diabetes)
  • Oxygen therapy or a ventilator (to treat lung failure)
  • Stomach tube (to treat severe vomiting)
  • Surgery (e.g., to remove gallstones, other obstructions [pseudocysts], scarring, or severely damaged tissue; to stop bleeding; or to drain an infection)

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 28 Feb 2008

Last Modified: 29 Sep 2015