What is (Acute) Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the Pancreas which requires immediate medical attention and hospitalization during an attack that has multiple causes and symptoms. It occurs when pancreatic enzymes (especially trypsin) that digest food are activated in the pancreas instead of the small intestine. It may be acute—beginning suddenly and lasting a few days, or chronic—occurring over many years. Acute pancreatitis (inflammation of the Pancreas) comes in mild and severe forms. The main cause of Pancreatitis is gall stones(cholelithiasis) and excess alcohol consumption

The mild form of Pancreatitis usually requires conservative management and therapy with your loved one staying Nil By Mouth(NBM) and therefore not being allowed to eat and drink in order to rest the Pancreas. For severe forms of Pancreatitis where other organs such as the liver, the gall bladder are affected, surgery such as the surgical removal of the gall stones(Cholecystectomy) is required. In the acute phase and if the Pancreatitis is severe admission to Intensive Care may be necessary.

  • What does the Pancreas do?
  • What is Pancreatitis?
  • What Happens in Intensive Care?
  • How long will your loved one remain in Intensive Care?


What does the Pancreas do?

The Pancreas is a glandular organ in the digestive system and endocrine system. It is both an endocrine gland producing several important hormones, including insulin and glucagon(maintenance of normal blood sugar), somatostatin, and pancreatic polypeptide, and a digestive organ, secreting pancreatic juice containing digestive enzymes that assist the absorption of nutrients and the digestion in the small intestine. These enzymes help to further break down the carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids in semi digested food.


What happens in Intensive Care?

  • Treatment for acute pancreatitis will include intravenous fluids, fasting the Patient
  • A urinary catheter is used to monitor urine output and a Nasogastric Tubes will be used to rest the Pancreas and the intestine or if your loved one requires ventilation
  • Pain relief may be given using a Patient controlled analgesic device (known as a PCA) or a continuous infusion of Morphine/ Fentanyl or other ‘opiate’ pain relief.
  • Your loved one will be fed intravenously with TPN(Total Parenteral Nutrition)
  • Your loved one will require monitoring using a Bedside Monitors and an Arterial Catheter(Arterial Line)
  • You can expect your loved one to have frequent Chest X-rays and blood tests(Blood& Pathology tests in Intensive Care) especially arterial blood gases (ABGs)
  • Initially oxygen and respiratory support might be commenced via an oxygen mask or via Non- Invasive Ventilation(NIV) or BIPAP ventilation
  • If your loved one develops respiratory(breathing) difficulties, full ventilation using a Ventilators(Breathing Machine) and a Breathing Tube (endotracheal tube) may be required to improve and maintain the oxygen delivery
  • Sedation may be used if your loved one is in an induced coma for ventilator and endotracheal tube tolerance
  • Infusion pumps are administering drugs to support your loved ones blood pressure and haemodynamic system, as well as intravenous fluids may be administered via a central venous catheter/ CVC(Central Venous Lines)
  • If the acute Pancreatitis is really severe, other complications such as severe shock, Acute lung failure(Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) and/or Acute Kidney(Renal) Failure may develop

How long will your loved one remain in Intensive care?

Around 20 to 30% of Patients with acute pancreatitis will have severe disease and face a long complicated recovery and some may experience a number of setbacks. This can mean weeks to months in intensive care or repeated admissions to intensive care. A number of Patients will require more than 1 operation to remove dead pancreatic tissue or to drain abscesses. A small number of Patients will develop multiple complications including shock or kidney or respiratory failure. This group of Patients will experience a long and difficult recovery and have an increased risk of death.

A long term stay over weeks or months in Intensive Care may require ongoing mechanical ventilation with Tracheostomy and a sometimes difficult and slow weaning process off the ventilator.

If your loved one faces long-term treatment and long-term ventilation with Tracheostomy in Intensive Care, please visit for alternative information and alternative treatment options.

Any Questions?

Of course, if you have any questions or concerns, please discuss them with the ICU nurses and doctors.

All Intensive Care interventions and procedures carry a degree of potential risk even when performed by skilled and experienced staff. Please discuss these issues with the medical and nursing staff who are caring for your loved one.

The information contained on this page is general in nature and therefore cannot reflect individual Patient variation. It is meant as a back up to specific information which will be discussed with you by the Doctors and Nurses caring for your loved one. INTENSIVE CARE HOTLINE attests to the accuracy of the information contained here BUT takes no responsibility for how it may apply to an individual Patient. Please refer to the full disclaimer.

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