How is pancreatitis diagnosed?

Your provider may suspect pancreatitis based on your symptoms or risk factors, such as heavy alcohol use or gallstone disease. To confirm diagnosis, you may go through additional tests.

Diagnosing acute pancreatitis

For acute pancreatitis, your provider may order a blood test that measures the levels of two digestive enzymes (amylase and lipase) produced by the pancreas. High levels of these enzymes indicate acute pancreatitis. An ultrasound or computed tomography (CT scan) provides images of your pancreas, gall bladder and bile duct that can show abnormalities.

Diagnosing chronic pancreatitis

Diagnosing chronic pancreatitis is more involved. You may also need:

  • Secretin pancreatic function test: This test checks for your pancreas’s response to a hormone (secretin) released by the small intestine. Secretin usually triggers the pancreas to release a digestive juice. A medical professional passes a tube from your throat, through your stomach, into the upper part of the small intestine to insert secretin and measure the response.
  • Oral glucose tolerance test: You may need this test if your provider suspects that pancreatitis has damaged your insulin-producing pancreas cells. It measures how your body handles sugar with a blood test before and after you drink a sugary liquid.
  • Stool test: Your provider may order a stool test using a sample of your stool to see if your body is having difficulty breaking down fat.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound (endosonography): An internal (endoscopic) ultrasound takes clearer pictures of your pancreas and connecting ducts (tubes). A healthcare professional inserts a thin tube with a tiny ultrasound attachment into your throat, through your stomach and into your small intestine. The endoscopic ultrasound takes detailed pictures of your internal organs including pancreas, part of liver, gall bladder and bile duct.
  • ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography): A tube with a tiny camera is passed from your throat to your stomach and into your small intestine up to the area called the ampulla, where the pancreas and bile duct opens. Dye is injected into the pancreas duct and /or bile duct. The test lets your provider see inside the pancreas and bile duct. Anything blocking the pancreas or bile duct, such as a gallstone or pancreas stone, may be removed.

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