Diagnosing Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis may be suspected if a patient experiences symptoms and has risk factors such as heavy alcohol use or gallstones. A number of tests and procedures may be performed to determine how well the pancreas is functioning.

Laboratory Tests

Blood testing may be done to measure digestive enzymes. Elevated levels of amylase and lipase can suggest acute pancreatitis.

Blood testing may also be used to test the patient's blood glucose levels, to determine whether the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas are functioning normally or not.

Stool testing to measure the level of elastase, an enzyme produced by the pancreas that helps to digest proteins.

Radiology

CT scan to check for complications such as infection or fluid around the pancreas;
Abdominal ultrasound to check for gallstones.

Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography: a form of MRI that is used to visualize the bile ducts and the pancreatic duct.

Diagnostic Procedures

Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): placement of a tube down the throat, into the stomach, and into the small intestine. Using contrast dye and x-ray, ERCP allows visualization of the pancreatic and bile ducts. If gallstones are blocking the bile duct, they can be removed during ERCP.

Endoscopic Ultrasound: placement of a lighted scope down the throat and into the stomach to visualize the pancreas and abdominal organs. Endoscopic ultrasound may reveal gallstones and can be helpful in diagnosing severe pancreatitis (while an invasive test such as ERCP might make the condition worse). A biopsy (removal of small portion of tissue) may be performed during endoscopic ultrasound.