Acute pancreatitis is treated in hospital, where you'll be closely monitored for signs of serious problems and given supportive treatment, such as fluids and oxygen.
People with mild acute pancreatitis usually start to get better within a week and experience either no further problems, or problems that get better within 48 hours.
Many people are well enough to leave hospital after a few days.
Those with severe acute pancreatitis can develop complications that require further treatment and may need to be admitted to a high-dependency unit or intensive care unit (ICU). Recovery may take much longer from severe acute pancreatitis, and there's a risk it could be fatal.
Read about complications of acute pancreatitis for more information on severe cases.
Having acute pancreatitis can cause you to become dehydrated, so fluids are given through a tube into your vein (intravenous or "IV" fluid) to prevent dehydration.
To make sure your body gets enough oxygen, you may be given oxygen through tubes in your nose. The tubes can be removed after a few days once your condition is improving.
If you have severe acute pancreatitis, ventilation equipment may also be used to help with your breathing.
Acute pancreatitis often causes severe tummy pain, so you'll probably need painkillers. Some of these can make you feel very drowsy.
If you're visiting someone who is in hospital with acute pancreatitis, don't be alarmed or concerned if they appear drowsy or unresponsive.
You may need to take antibiotics if you have an infection as well as pancreatitis – for example, if you have a chest or urinary infection.
If you have mild acute pancreatitis but aren't feeling or being sick and don't have tummy pain, you can usually eat normally.
But if your condition is more severe, you may be advised not to eat solid foods for a few days or longer. This is because trying to digest solid food could put too much strain on your pancreas.
If you need to avoid solid food, you may be given a special liquid food mixture, with the nutrients you need, through a tube in your tummy (enteral feeding).
Treating the underlying cause
Once the condition is under control, the underlying cause may need treating.
If a gallstone is causing your pancreatitis, you may need a procedure called an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), or your gallbladder may need to be removed.
If you need an ERCP, you'll have a long, thin tube containing a camera (an endoscope) passed down through your mouth into your tummy. This is used to help remove the gallstones.
Gallbladder removal surgery may be done while you're in hospital or planned for several weeks' time.
Having your gallbladder removed shouldn't have a big effect on your health, but it might make it more difficult for you to digest certain foods, such as fatty or spicy foods.
Ideally, the gallbladder should be removed within 2 weeks of your attack of pancreatitis unless you are too unwell for surgery.
After recovering from acute pancreatitis, you should completely avoid alcohol if this was the cause of your condition.
Some people with acute pancreatitis have a dependency on alcohol and need help and support to stop drinking. If this applies to you, see a GP to get help.
Treatment for alcohol dependence includes:
- one-to-one counselling
- self-help groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous
- taking a medicine called acamprosate that can reduce cravings for alcohol
Read more about treating alcohol misuse.