The pancreas is a flat, long gland located near the stomach and the duodenum. This important organ helps the body secrete digestive enzymes into the small intestine to assist the body in digesting proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. The pancreas also releases glucagon and insulin into the blood to help control the levels of your blood sugar.

When a patient develops pancreatitis, his digestive enzymes are activated too quickly, and they begin to attack the inside of the pancreas.

There are two types of pancreatitis—acute and chronic—and according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, acute pancreatitis is one of the most frequent conditions for admission to hospitals.

If you suffer from chronic pancreatitis, you may qualify for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). However, it’s not easy to submit a winning claim and prove your condition makes it impossible for you to sustain gainful employment. Because obtaining disability benefits can be challenging, it’s helpful to hire an experienced Social Security (SS) disability attorney to assist you when filing your claim.

Types of Pancreatitis

pancreas_diagnosisThere are two types of pancreatitis—acute and chronic. Here's a brief look at both types:

Acute Pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis usually comes on quickly with severe pain in the upper abdomen. Despite advanced medical care in the last two decades, acute pancreatitis can be deadly. The death rate of patients with acute pancreatitis is approximately 10 percent. 

Because the pancreas is positioned behind the stomach, imaging tests aren’t often reliable for diagnosing this condition, and it’s not easy for doctors to see the pancreas without surgery.

To get an accurate diagnosis for acute pancreatitis, a doctor will get your medical history, do an exam, and have you take a blood test. This test—amylase or lipase—will determine if there are digestive enzymes in your pancreas. In patients with acute pancreatitis, blood lipase or amylase levels are usually three times the normal level. In some cases, when there's no elevation of these levels, a doctor may recommend a computed tomography (CT) scan to help with a diagnosis.

For most patients, acute pancreatitis is resolved with certain therapies. The main therapy for this condition is “early fluid resuscitation,” particularly in the first 24 hours. Because there's a great deal of swelling and inflammation in the pancreas, receiving intravenous fluids helps the patient stay hydrated and ensure that all the body’s organs get the right amount of blood flow to encourage healing.

Additional therapies include zero food during the first 24–48 hours to rest the pancreas and bowels. After those first 48 hours, a nutrition plan is implemented because the highly active state of inflammation and injury in the pancreas needs a significant number of calories to enable healing. Most often, patients can begin eating on their own at this point.

While most patients find their acute pancreatitis resolves with these therapies, about 15 percent develop severe acute pancreatitis that can be life-threatening. It’s possible for there to be failure of many body organs and infection.

Chronic Pancreatitis

Patients with chronic pancreatitis have an inflamed pancreas that won't improve or heal. Typically, their conditions worsen and there's permanent damage to the pancreas. Eventually, this condition interferes with a patient’s ability to make pancreatic hormones and digest food. It’s estimated that in industrialized countries, 5–12 in every 100,000 people develop chronic pancreatitis, mostly people age 30–40. This condition is most common in men.

To diagnose chronic pancreatitis, doctors often find that x-ray exams work best in order to determine the structure of the pancreas. Generally, bloods tests aren't the best way to make the diagnosis. Additionally, doctors may use any of the following diagnostic tests:

  • Transabdominal ultrasound. Sound waves are sent toward the pancreas and other organs, and their echoes create a sonogram.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound. A thin tube is guided down the throat, through the stomach, and into the small intestine. An ultrasound attached to the endoscope sends back sound wave images of the pancreas and bile ducts.
  • Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP). This test uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to help show the pancreas, bile ducts, and gallbladder.
  • Computerized tomography (CT). This test produces a 3-D image and can show the damage to the pancreas.

Contact Cuddigan Law

If you’ve been diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis, or your condition is debilitating and you’re unable to work, you may qualify for SS disability benefits. Hiring an experienced SS attorney can help determine if you meet a listing in the Blue Book or your condition could be evaluated under the residual functional capacity (RFC).

Contact the attorneys at Cuddigan Law who can help you understand the process and work with you on your application  or appeal to increase your chances of getting an approved claim. 


Timothy J. Cuddigan (Founder - Retired)
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Omaha Social Security and Veterans Disability Lawyer With Over 40 Years Experience