Diagnosing acute pancreatitis 

Most cases of acute pancreatitis are diagnosed in hospital because of the risk of serious complications.

The doctor in charge of your care will ask you about the history of your symptoms. They may also carry out a physical examination. If you have acute pancreatitis, certain areas of your abdomen will be very tender to touch.

A blood test will be carried out to help confirm a diagnosis. This will help detect signs of acute pancreatitis, such as a high level of two chemicals called lipase and amylase.

Further testing

Further testing may be carried out to see the extent of the inflammation of your pancreas and assess your risk of developing more serious complications.

You may have any of the following tests:

An ERCP uses a narrow, flexible tube known as an endoscope, which has a camera on one end. The endoscope will be passed through your mouth and towards your stomach. A special dye that shows up on X-rays is then injected through the endoscope into your bile and pancreatic ducts. After the dye has been injected, X-rays will be taken.

This test can be useful in cases of gallbladder-associated acute pancreatitis, because it can pinpoint exactly where the gallstone is located. In some cases, it may be possible to pass surgical instruments down the endoscope so the gallstone can be removed.

Grading acute pancreatitis

Determining whether a person has mild or severe acute pancreatitis can be very difficult in the early stages.

You will be monitored closely for signs of serious problems that can develop, such as organ failure, as these help indicate the severity of the condition.

People with mild acute pancreatitis tend to improve within a week and experience either no further problems or problems that resolve within 48 hours. People with severe acute pancreatitis develop persistent serious problems.

Several tests may also be used to help determine the severity of your condition, including further blood tests and sometimes X-rays and a CT scan.

Page last reviewed: 25/03/2013

Next review due: 25/03/2015