You can have both pancreatitis and kidney failure. Each condition can worsen the other, and both need treatment.

person with kidney failure and pancreatitis sitting at home talking on the phoneShare on Pinterest
Getty Images/Cyndi Monaghan

The pancreas and kidneys work together to process the food you eat and eliminate harmful wastes from the body. A breakdown in either system can strain the other, causing catastrophic symptoms that can have a domino effect on the rest of the body.

Learn what happens when pancreatic disease affects the kidneys, and what you can do to protect both systems.

Kidney injuries and kidney failure are complications of untreated pancreatitis.

Kidney failure is a condition that develops when your kidneys have permanent damage. It’s usually only diagnosed when your kidneys reach a certain level of reduced function, and it’s classified based on how much of your kidney function remains.

Your kidneys filter toxins from your body, recycling anything your body can still use and eliminating any waste products. Kidney injuries and chronic kidney disease can limit your ability to make urine, causing dangerous buildups of substances that are harmful to your body.

When you have pancreatitis, you may develop symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Although there’s some debate on exactly how pancreatitis causes kidney difficulties, these symptoms can lead to dehydration — a condition often linked to kidney damage.

How common is kidney injury after acute pancreatitis?

Acute kidney injury is considered a common complication of acute pancreatitis. About 20% of people with pancreatitis develop kidney difficulties later.

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People who have pancreatitis often experience symptoms such as:

If you develop kidney disease or a kidney injury after a bout with pancreatitis, you may start to notice additional symptoms such as:

  • swelling in your legs, ankles, or feet
  • feeling sick to your stomach
  • pain or pressure in your chest
  • decrease in your urine output

With more advanced kidney disease or kidney failure, you can also experience difficulties such as:

  • changes in your heart rhythm
  • dizziness
  • muscle cramps
  • shortness of breath

There really isn’t a combined treatment for both pancreatitis and kidney failure.

Pancreatitis is treated with things such as:

In severe cases, you may even need surgery to open up areas of your pancreas that become blocked from inflammation.

Treatment for acute kidney injury may also involve IV fluids, but this is about where the similarities end. Kidney disease management focuses on addressing contributing factors such as unmanaged blood sugar or blood pressure levels.

If your kidney function continues to decline, you may have to consider additional treatments such as medications to help control your fluid and electrolyte levels or even dialysis.

Dialysis is a therapy that mimics the work of your kidneys by filtering extra fluid and wastes from your blood. In the case of severe acute kidney injuries, dialysis could be needed for a short time. But for more advanced cases of chronic kidney disease, most people require dialysis about every other day or will have to see if they qualify for a kidney transplant.

The outlook for people with pancreatitis depends on the severity of your condition and how it’s treated. Pancreatitis that progresses untreated to the point of causing other complications can be fatal, leading to multiple organ failure and shock.

On its own, an acute kidney injury is considered a condition that you should recover from, but complicated cases that lead to chronic kidney difficulties carry higher rates of mortality and serious illness.

While both of these conditions can be fatal if left untreated, kidney damage that develops from pancreatitis is usually a sign that you’ll have a more difficult path to recovery.

Between 25–75% of people who develop an acute kidney injury after pancreatitis face possibly fatal consequences. Mortality rates are the highest in people whose pancreatitis leads to a kidney injury that requires treatment with dialysis.

Kidney injuries are common complications of pancreatitis. Without the right care, or in people who already have a complex medical history, acute kidney injuries can progress to chronic disease and eventually kidney failure.

There are treatment options available for both conditions, and it’s important to see medical care if you think you have either.

When pancreatitis leads to kidney disease, the overall outlook isn’t promising. Talk with a healthcare professional about your individual risk factors for either of these conditions and how you can prevent them.