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What medications aggravate pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, an organ that produces enzymes to aid in digestion and hormones like insulin to regulate blood sugar. There are two main types of pancreatitis: acute and chronic. Acute pancreatitis involves sudden inflammation that develops quickly and may resolve in a few days with treatment. Chronic pancreatitis involves persistent inflammation that leads to permanent damage to the pancreas over time.

Both types of pancreatitis cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and fever. The inflammation prevents the pancreas from working properly, leading to problems with digestion and blood sugar regulation. Certain medications can worsen inflammation and pain in people with acute or chronic pancreatitis. Being aware of these drugs allows people with pancreatitis to avoid compounds that may trigger attacks or exacerbate their condition.

Medications Associated with Pancreatitis

Many different classes of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications have been associated with causing or aggravating pancreatitis. Some of the main categories include:


Steroids like prednisone and dexamethasone are commonly used to reduce inflammation in other conditions. However, steroids may paradoxically worsen inflammation in the pancreas. Steroids are thought to potentially cause dysfunction of pancreatic duct cells, resulting in inadequate drainage of digestive enzymes. This leads to the enzymes building up and “digesting” the pancreas itself.

Examples of steroids that may trigger pancreatitis include:

– Prednisone
– Dexamethasone
– Methylprednisolone
– Hydrocortisone
– Triamcinolone


Diuretics or “water pills” like furosemide (Lasix) increase urination to reduce fluid retention related to conditions like high blood pressure or heart failure. Thiazide diuretics like hydrochlorothiazide also aggravate pancreatitis by causing calcium buildup in the pancreas called hypercalcemia.

Examples of diuretics associated with pancreatitis include:

– Furosemide (Lasix)
– Hydrochlorothiazide
– Chlorthalidone
– Indapamide
– Metolazone

ACE Inhibitors

Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors used for high blood pressure like lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril), captopril (Capoten), and enalapril (Vasotec) are linked to pancreatitis. Scientists believe these medications cause inflammation by promoting buildup of bradykinin, a substance involved in pain pathways.

Some ACE inhibitors with evidence of pancreatitis risk include:

– Lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril)
– Captopril (Capoten)
– Enalapril (Vasotec)
– Benazepril (Lotensin)
– Quinapril (Accupril)


Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) are associated with inducing pancreatitis or worsening attacks. These medications can cause digestive tract irritation and small duct obstruction in the pancreas.

NSAIDs with pancreatitis risks include:

– Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
– Naproxen (Aleve)
– Diclofenac (Voltaren)
– Indomethacin (Indocin)
– Celecoxib (Celebrex)


Antibiotics like metronidazole (Flagyl), tetracycline, and sulfa drugs can provoke pancreatitis, often in association with other risk factors like excessive alcohol intake. The antibiotics may cause direct toxicity to pancreatic cells.

Some antibiotics linked to pancreatitis include:

– Metronidazole (Flagyl)
– Sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim (Bactrim)
– Tetracycline
– Ciprofloxacin (Cipro)


Anticonvulsant medications like valproic acid (Depakote) used to treat seizures or psychological conditions have also been connected to causing pancreatitis. Damage may occur due to direct pancreatic toxicity.

Examples of anticonvulsants associated with pancreatitis risk include:

– Valproic acid (Depakote)
– Carbamazepine (Tegretol)
– Phenytoin (Dilantin)
– Phenobarbital


Immunosuppressive therapies like azathioprine (Imuran) and 6-mercaptopurine (Purinethol) prescribed after organ transplants can provoke pancreatitis. This likely occurs because these compounds damage pancreatic cell membranes.

Immunosuppressants tied to pancreatitis include:

– Azathioprine (Imuran)
– 6-mercaptopurine (Purinethol)
– Cyclosporine (Sandimmune, Neoral)


Estrogen medications like hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills are associated with higher risk for pancreatitis, especially in women with other risk factors like alcoholism or gallstones. Estrogen may contribute by causing gallbladder problems and bile duct obstruction.

Examples of estrogen therapies linked to pancreatitis include:

– Conjugated estrogens (Premarin)
– Estradiol patches or pills (Estrace, Vivelle Dot, Climara)
– Combination estrogen-progestins (Prempro)
– Oral contraceptives

Some HIV Medications

Certain HIV medications like didanosine (Videx) and stavudine (Zerit) may provoke pancreatitis, especially when used long-term in combination with other HIV drugs. The mechanisms are unclear but seem to involve mitochondrial toxicity.

HIV drugs potentially associated with pancreatitis:

– Didanosine (Videx)
– Stavudine (Zerit)
– Lamivudine (Epivir)
– Didanosine plus stavudine


The injectable drug octreotide (Sandostatin) used for acromegaly and gastrointestinal disorders is another agent that can worsen pancreatitis, likely by altering pancreatic duct flow.


The antibiotic pentamidine used to treat Pneumocystis pneumonia has also been associated with higher rates of pancreatitis, especially in HIV patients. The causative mechanisms remain uncertain.

Medications with Lower Risk

While many drugs have been associated with causing or aggravating pancreatitis, other compounds have less evidence indicating they directly provoke pancreatitis flare ups. However, it is still wise for people with pancreatitis to exercise caution if taking any medication.

Examples of drugs with lower evidence implicating them as direct causes of pancreatitis include:

– Statins like atorvastatin (Lipitor) and simvastatin (Zocor)
– ACE inhibitors like ramipril (Altace) and trandolapril (Mavik)
– Calcium channel blockers like amlodipine (Norvasc) and diltiazem (Cardizem)
– Loop diuretics like torsemide (Demadex) and bumetanide (Bumex)
– Sulfonylureas like glipizide (Glucotrol) and glyburide (Micronase) for diabetes
– Proton pump inhibitors like omeprazole (Prilosec) and pantoprazole (Protonix)
– Beta blockers like metoprolol (Lopressor) and carvedilol (Coreg)

Risk Factors for Medication-Induced Pancreatitis

While numerous medications have the potential to cause or aggravate pancreatitis, there are certain factors that increase an individual’s risk of experiencing this adverse effect:

– Advanced age – Older adults may be more susceptible to toxicity.
– Genetics – Variations in detoxifying enzymes may predispose some people.
– Kidney problems – Decreased drug elimination may increase risk.
– Liver disease – Impaired drug metabolism can lead to increased toxicity.
– Alcohol use – Many drugs have greater toxicity with alcohol consumption.
– High medication doses – Higher doses often increase adverse effects.
– Combination therapy – Using multiple pancreatitis-inducing drugs together can increase risk.

Being aware of these risk factors allows patients and doctors to take measures to limit the chances of medication-provoked pancreatitis. This may involve avoiding certain combinations, reducing doses, or opting for lower-risk alternatives when possible.

Steps to Take if Your Medication is Implicated

If you experience pancreatitis symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting while taking a medication known to provoke pancreatitis, prompt medical attention is recommended. The following steps should be taken:

– Discontinue the suspected medication after consulting your doctor. Abruptly stopping some drugs can cause problems, so guidance is important.
– Report the reaction to your healthcare provider to have it documented in your records.
– Ask your doctor to recommend alternative medications that do not have pancreatitis risks.
– Follow recommended diet and lifestyle modifications to help manage your pancreatitis.
– Seek prompt medical attention if your symptoms worsen or do not improve within 1-2 days of stopping the medication. Worsening pancreatitis can lead to serious complications.
– Ask your doctor if you need lipase/amylase blood tests, imaging like an abdominal ultrasound or CT scan to assess your pancreas.
– Report any severe suspected medication reactions to the FDA MedWatch program to aid in gathering data on medication risks.

Preventing Medication-Induced Pancreatitis

Strategies to help reduce your risk of medication-provoked pancreatitis flare ups include:

– Review all your medications with your doctor and pharmacist. Ask about pancreatitis risks.
– Request the lowest effective doses of medications when possible.
– Take steps to avoid needing pancreatitis-provoking drugs if reasonable alternatives exist.
– Avoid combination therapy with multiple high-risk medications unless clearly necessary.
– Avoid alcohol completely if you need to take medications with pancreatitis risk.
– Stay well hydrated and do not become dehydrated while taking these drugs.
– Monitor for any signs of pancreatitis and report concerns promptly to your healthcare provider.
– Follow a low-fat, high-fiber diet to help reduce inflammation in the pancreas.
– Ask your doctor about supplements that may help protect your pancreas like antioxidants.


Many common prescription and over-the-counter medications have been shown to provoke pancreatitis or worsen attacks. The highest-risk drugs include steroids, diuretics, ACE inhibitors, NSAIDs, antibiotics, anticonvulsants, immunosuppressants, estrogens, and certain HIV medications. However, even drugs with less evidence for causing pancreatitis can potentially trigger attacks in susceptible individuals.

People with acute or chronic pancreatitis should review their medications with their healthcare providers to identify any high-risk agents. Ideally, these drugs should be avoided or minimized when reasonable lower-risk alternatives exist. For medications that must be continued, following preventive steps can help reduce the likelihood of medication-provoked pancreatitis attacks. Being attentive to potential medication risks and promptly reporting any concerning symptoms allows for the best outcomes in patients with this challenging digestive disorder.