Pancreatitis Treatment Illustration
What Does My Pancreas Do?
By Dr. Lee Ser Yee
The pancreas is a small gland located behind the stomach, connected to the bile duct and small intestines.

It is responsible for producing digestive enzymes that break down cholesterol, protein and fat in the small intestine, as well as producing hormones such as insulin to regulate the amount of sugar in the blood.

What is pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is the swelling (inflammation) of the pancreas. There are 2 main types of pancreatitis

  • Acute pancreatitis
    • A sudden swelling (inflammation) of the pancreas
  • Chronic pancreatitis
    • Chronic pancreatitis tends to develop over time after repeated episodes of acute pancreatitis and/or as a simmering inflammation that damages the pancreas
Causes of pancreatitis
  • Gallstones
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Trauma
  • Infection – certain viruses and bacteria
  • High levels of fats or calcium in the blood
  • Hereditary and Genetic causes
  • Hepatitis B
  • Tumours
  • Others- toxins and medications

Generally, acute and chronic pancreatitis share similar symptoms, except that acute pancreatitis usually has more acute and severe symptoms while chronic pancreatitis symptoms are more gradual and long-drawn. Symptoms of pancreatitis include:

  • Central, upper abdominal pain, going to the back
  • Nausea & Vomiting
  • Fever and chills
  • Diarrhoea
  • Weight loss, especially in chronic pancreatitis
  • Jaundice
  • Acute pancreatitis can lead to infection and potentially life-threatening conditions e.g. Systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) and Multi-organ failure
  • Acute pancreatitis can recur, simmer and can lead to chronic pancreatitis
  • Repeated episodes of pancreatitis can lead to Diabetes and Malnutrition
  • Pancreatitis can increase the risk of Pancreatic cancer in the long term

Treatment depends on the type of pancreatitis and its severity. It centers around the removal of the eliciting cause, supportive measures and prevention of complications. These may include –

  • Gallbladder removal (Cholecystectomy) – To prevent future recurrences if gallstones are the cause
  • Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangio-Pancreatography ( ERCP) - to remove stones in the common bile duct blocking the drainage of the pancreas
  • Pancreatic surgery - to deal with complications of acute pancreatitis or to relief the pain in chronic pancreatitis

To learn more, please consult a Pancreatic surgeon.

liver surgeon - Dr Lee Ser Yee
Dr Lee Ser Yee

Senior Consultant Hepatopancreatobiliary Surgeon

MBBS, MMed (Surgery), MSc, FAMS, FRCSEd

Prior to private practice, Dr Lee Ser Yee was a founding member and Senior Consultant at the Department of Hepatopancreatobiliary (HPB) and Transplant Surgery at Singapore General Hospital (SGH). He served as the Director of the Laparoscopic programme and the Director of the Surgical Skills Training Program and the SingHealth Surgical Skills Centre.

He started his medical training at the National University of Singapore in 1996 and completed his training in General Surgery, HPB surgery and Liver Transplantation at SGH and National Cancer Centre, Singapore.

He also completed dual USA-fellowships in Advanced Laparoscopic HPB surgery and Liver Transplantation under Professor Daniel Cherqui at the New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center and a Complex Surgical Oncology clinical fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

liver cancer surgeon - Dr Lee Ser Yee