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How do you avoid getting pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, a small organ located behind the stomach that produces enzymes to digest food and regulate blood sugar levels. Getting pancreatitis can be very painful and in severe cases lead to serious complications. While some causes of pancreatitis cannot be avoided, there are steps you can take to help prevent getting it in the first place.

What is pancreatitis?

The pancreas produces digestive enzymes and insulin. When these enzymes activate inside the pancreas before they reach the small intestine, it causes inflammation and swelling that damages the tissues of the pancreas. This condition is known as pancreatitis.

There are two main types of pancreatitis:

  • Acute pancreatitis – sudden inflammation that develops quickly and lasts for a short time. It often goes away on its own with proper treatment.
  • Chronic pancreatitis – long-term inflammation causing permanent damage. The pancreas loses its ability to function properly over time.

Both forms cause severe upper abdominal pain that can spread to the back. Other common symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Tender abdomen
  • Diarrhea
  • Unexplained weight loss

Severe pancreatitis requires hospitalization for pain management, IV fluids, and monitoring complications. Potential complications include dehydration, infection, cysts, diabetes, malnutrition, and breathing problems. Chronic pancreatitis can eventually lead to irreversible damage and impaired pancreatic function.

What causes pancreatitis?

There are several factors that can cause inflammation of the pancreas:


One of the most common causes of acute pancreatitis is gallstones blocking the pancreatic duct. Gallstones form when substances in bile harden into stone-like deposits that can get trapped as they travel through the common bile duct into the small intestine.

Alcohol use

Heavy alcohol use over many years is a leading cause of chronic pancreatitis. Alcohol can damage pancreatic cells and activate digestive enzymes.

High triglycerides

Having very high levels of triglycerides, a type of fat, in the bloodstream can lead to acute pancreatitis. Triglyceride levels over 1,000 mg/dL are considered severely elevated.


Certain prescription medications are linked with drug-induced pancreatitis, such as:

  • Azathioprine
  • Sulfonamides
  • Tetracycline
  • Valproic acid
  • Estrogens
  • Pentamidine
  • Methyldopa

Autoimmune disease

Autoimmune disorders that involve the pancreas, such as primary biliary cirrhosis, can cause recurring pancreatitis. The immune system attacks the pancreas.


Rarely, hereditary factors are involved. Mutations in certain genes like PRSS1, SPINK1, and CFTR can increase risk.


Viruses (like mumps), bacteria, and parasites can sometimes infect the pancreas and trigger inflammation.


A severe direct blow to the abdomen or injury during surgery around the pancreas area can lead to pancreatitis.


Tumors related to pancreatic cancer in some cases can obstruct ducts and cause pancreatitis.


Less common causes include high calcium blood levels, cystic fibrosis, and some surgical procedures involving the bile ducts. In many cases, the exact cause is unknown.

How to prevent pancreatitis

While not every case of pancreatitis can be prevented, the following measures can help reduce your risk of developing it:

Limit alcohol intake

Avoid heavy and binge drinking, which is closely linked to chronic pancreatitis. Men should have no more than 2 alcohol drinks per day and women 1 drink per day.

Maintain healthy weight

Carrying excess weight, especially around the waist, raises risk of gallstone pancreatitis. Losing even a modest amount of weight if overweight can help.

Don’t smoke

Smoking is another risk factor. Chemicals in cigarettes are thought to damage pancreas cells. Quitting can lower risk.

Control triglyceride levels

Keep triglyceride levels below 500 mg/dL through diet, exercise and medication if prescribed.

Triglyceride Level Classification
Below 150 mg/dL Normal
150-199 mg/dL Borderline high
200-499 mg/dL High
500 mg/dL and above Very high

Eat a healthy diet

Choose a balanced diet focused on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. Limit junk food high in saturated fat, salt and refined carbs.

Take prescribed medications carefully

Be aware of potential side effects from any medications you take and inform your doctor of any history of pancreatitis. Alternative options may be available.

Get treated for gallstones

Have any gallstones removed to prevent them from blocking pancreatic ducts and causing pancreatitis.

Treat underlying conditions

Properly manage any medical conditions associated with pancreatitis, like high calcium levels and autoimmune disorders.

Avoid trauma

Prevent any direct injury to your abdomen area to reduce the chances of traumatic pancreatitis.

Treatment for pancreatitis

Mild cases of pancreatitis may resolve on their own with rest and hydration. More severe cases require hospital care which focuses on:

  • Pain management – analgesics and fluid replacement
  • Treating dehydration – IV fluids and electrolyte monitoring
  • Medication – to stop pancreatic secretions
  • Nutritional support – feeding tube if needed
  • Monitoring for complications – infections, cysts, organ failure
  • Removing gallstones or other causes, if present

For chronic pancreatitis, the goal is to relieve symptoms and prevent further damage by:

  • Pancreatic enzyme therapy – replace lost enzymes
  • Pain control – nerve blocks, surgery, medication
  • Diet modification – low fat and frequent small meals
  • Treating diabetes – insulin, diet, exercise
  • Surgery – removing obstructions or pancreas tissue
  • Taking supplements – B12, calcium, antioxidants


While not all cases of pancreatitis are preventable, avoiding alcohol excess, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and controlling medical conditions can help lower risk. Seek prompt treatment for severe unexplained abdominal pain associated with other pancreatitis symptoms. Work with your doctor to manage any risk factors.