The pancreas is a small organ located in your abdomen, which produces fluids and enzymes that break down the food you eat. Pancreatitis is a disease that causes inflammation (swelling, redness, and pain) in your pancreas.

Gallstones are hardened deposits of bile that can form in your gallbladder (a small pouch that sits just under the liver and stores bile produced by the liver).

In some cases, a gallstone can block your pancreatic duct and cause pancreatitis known as gallstone pancreatitis.

Let us now have a look at all the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, complications, and prevention of gallstone pancreatitis.

What Causes Gallstone Pancreatitis?

Gallstones that form in your gallbladder can travel to the opening of the pancreas and duodenum (first part of the small intestine) and block it. 

This causes a backup of fluid that can travel up both the bile duct and the pancreatic duct. Gallstones are the primary cause of acute pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas that develops quickly).

What Are The Symptoms Of Gallstone Pancreatitis?

Gallstone pancreatitis can present itself with the following symptoms:

  • Severe pain in the abdomen

  • Chills

  • Fever

  • Jaundice

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Sharp, squeezing type of pain in your left upper abdomen or your back

  • Pain radiating to chest or shoulder

How Do You Diagnose Gallstone Pancreatitis?

Early diagnosis can be the key to better outcomes. Gallstone Pancreatitis is diagnosed through:

  • Blood tests to detect elevated levels of pancreatic enzymes, liver enzymes along with white blood cells, and kidney function.

  • Abdominal ultrasound to detect gallstones and inflammation of the pancreas.

  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan to detect gallstones and assess the extent of pancreatic inflammation.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to detect abnormalities in the gallbladder, pancreas, and ducts.

  • Endoscopic ultrasound to detect inflammation and blockages in the pancreatic duct or bile duct.

What Is The Treatment For Gallstone Pancreatitis?

  • Medical treatment: Painkillers, nourishing supplements with vitamins and minerals, and pancreatic enzyme supplements can help in relieving mild symptoms. In some mild to moderate cases, you may need to get hospitalised and stop eating. IV fluids are given during that course. Generally, this will be enough to get your stone to pass through your body and resolve your pancreatitis.

  • Surgical Treatment: In severe cases, removal of the gallstones with an endoscope (a medical device with a camera and a light source attached to look inside a body cavity or organ) may be the best option to treat gallstone pancreatitis.

What Are The Complications of Gallstone Pancreatitis?

Untreated gallstone pancreatitis can cause the following complications:

  • Jaundice: Yellow discolouration of eyes and nails because of a high level of bilirubin, a yellow-orange bile pigment.

  • Cholangitis: Cholangitis is an inflammation of the bile duct system due to a blocked duct.

  • Pancreatic Necrosis: Death of pancreatic tissue because of the damage.

How Can You Prevent Gallstone Pancreatitis?

You might not be able to completely prevent gallstones pancreatitis but you can lower your risk of developing gallstones by: 

  • Eating a healthy diet.

  • Keeping cholesterol levels within a normal range.

  • Maintaining a healthy weight.

  • Managing diabetes.

When To See Your Doctor?

Symptoms of gallstone pancreatitis, especially severe pain, can be a warning signal. If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above, visit your doctor immediately, without any delay.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.