High Triglycerides & Pancreatitis

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The pancreas is located just behind your stomach in the upper abdomen. It manufactures insulin and other digestive enzymes. Pancreatitis is the medical term for inflammation of the pancreas. It can be acute, which means it occurs suddenly, or it can be chronic, meaning it happens over and over again. A high triglyceride level is just one of the many possible causes of pancreatitis.

Triglycerides and Disease

Triglycerides are one component of your overall blood cholesterol, which also includes low-density lipoproteins, or LDL, and high-density lipoproteins, or HDL. You need these substances to produce energy, store micronutrients and kick start growth, the immune function and reproduction in your cells. Your body makes triglycerides from the fats and carbohydrates you consume in your daily diet. The ideal blood triglyceride level is less than 150 mg/dL and it should never exceed 200 . Higher amounts, called hypertriglyceridemia, can lead to clogged arteries, heart disease and stroke. Acute pancreatitis may result from triglyceride levels greater than 1000 mg. Diabetes, alcoholism and certain inherited disorders are the most common reasons to have such a high level of triglycerides.

Symptoms of Pancreatitis

When your pancreas becomes inflamed, it can cause bleeding or even kill some of the cells around the pancreas. If you get pancreatitis, you'll have a tender abdomen with pain in your upper abdomen that sometimes radiates to your back or chest. The pain is often worse right after you eat. You may also have fever and sweating, nausea and vomiting, or rapid breathing and a fast heart rate. If you have these symptoms, you need to call your doctor right away.

Treatment for Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis can be a serious condition, often requiring hospitalization to address the initial symptoms and determine the underlying cause. You may need to stop eating for a couple days to allow your pancreas a chance to rest and recover. To keep from getting dehydrated, you may be given fluids intravenously. Because pancreatitis can be quite painful, your doctor may prescribe pain medication for you. You may also need to have surgery to remove excess fluid or dead tissue from your pancreas.

If hypertriglyceridemia is causing your pancreatitis, your doctor will work with you to lower your triglyceride levels. This can be done through prescription drugs and lifestyle changes, including working with a registered dietitian to help you learn how to eat a healthier daily diet, including choosing low fat foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Other Causes of Pancreatitis

High triglycerides are among the less common causes of pancreatitis, and are only associated with the acute disease, not the chronic form. Most people get acute pancreatitis as a result of gallstones that block the pancreatic duct, so the digestive enzymes manufactured in the pancreas can't be excreted into the stomach and intestines. These enzymes then break down in the pancreas, leading to the inflammation, bleeding and severe pain of pancreatitis. Besides gallstones, other possible causes of pancreatitis include infections, an abdominal injury, certain medications, abdominal surgery, pancreatic cancer and alcoholism.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911. If you think you may have COVID-19, use the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker before leaving the house.