A series of tests help to diagnose pancreatitis and eliminate other potential causes of symptoms. A healthcare provider may order one or more of these tests:
- A blood test to look for an increase in pancreatic enzymes
- Testing on a stool sample to measure fat levels to determine if the body is absorbing nutrients
- Computerized tomography (CT) to check for inflammation and possibly gallstones
- Ultrasound on the abdomen to look for inflammation and gallstones
- Endoscopic ultrasound
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
A proper diagnosis will not just look for pancreatitis but for its cause as well. That will mean taking a full patient history, including discussing lifestyle habits, such as drinking and smoking. Lifestyle plays an essential role in the development of this inflammation, so complete honesty is important. They may also want to know if pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer runs in the family.
Blood and Stool Tests
The blood and stool test can indicate if further testing is necessary. An increase in pancreatic enzymes in the blood suggests a problem exists with the pancreas. Meanwhile, the stool test measures the level of fat. This measurement can indicate whether the body is properly absorbing nutrients. If not, this can be an indicator of pancreatitis.
The diagnosis will also require at least one kind of imaging, such as the ultrasound and a CT or MRI, since the blood and stool tests may not be conclusive. Ultrasounds use sound waves to create a picture of the organs inside the body. CT and MRI scans provide more comprehensive images and may show the extent of the damage to the organ.
All imaging tests are looking for the same thing: an indication of inflammation of the pancreas, stones in the gallbladder, and blockages of critical ducts. Any one of these issues means that enzymes might be backing up into the pancreas and causing damage.
In some cases, the healthcare provider will want multiple imaging tests to determine the extent of the inflammation and to check the healing progress once treatment begins.
How do you detect pancreatitis?
The combination of blood, stool, and imaging tests will be able to determine if the pancreas is functioning normally and if it shows any signs of inflammation. The stool test provides information on the absorption of nutrients and the production of pancreatic enzymes.
Imaging tests can show inflammation in the organ plus other possible issues such as gallstones or bile blockage.
Can pancreatitis go undetected?
In mild cases, the pain might be dismissed as indigestion or muscle pain. In that case, the patient might not see a provider, leaving pancreatitis undetected.
In more severe cases, pain and other symptoms would be difficult to ignore. It will likely be persistent, too, without changes in the diet and treatment. Pain management is an integral part of the treatment for this disease. A body in pain struggles to heal, so the discomfort continues until treatment begins.