Pancreatitis is a disease in which there is a sudden inflammation in the pancreas. The pancreas is a large gland that sits tucked behind the stomach in the upper abdomen. It releases enzymes to help food digestion and hormones to help regulate the way the body processes sugar (glucose).
Pancreatitis can be acute (lasting for days) or chronic (occurring over many years). Either form is serious and can lead to complications.
Mild cases of pancreatitis may go away without the need for treatment, however severe cases can cause life-threatening complications and require immediate attention.
Signs and symptoms of pancreatitis may vary, depending on which type of pancreatitis in question.
Acute pancreatitis signs and symptoms include:
· Severe pain in the upper abdomen
· Swollen and tender abdomen
· Abdominal pain that radiates to the back
· Abdominal pain that worsens after eating
Chronic pancreatitis signs and symptoms include:
· Intense pain in the upper abdomen
· Unintentional weight loss
· Oily, smelly stools (steatorrhea)
During normal digestion, inactivated pancreatic enzymes move through ducts in the pancreas and travel to the small intestine, where the enzymes become activated and help with digestion. In pancreatitis, the enzymes become activated while still in the pancreas. This causes the enzymes to irritate the cells of the pancreas, in turn causing inflammation and symptoms associated with pancreatitis. Repeated irritation to the pancreatitis can lead to chronic pancreatitis and cause digestion problems and diabetes.
Other causes associated with acute and chronic pancreatitis include:
· Abdominal surgery
· Certain medications
· Cystic fibrosis
· Family history of pancreatitis
· Injury to the abdomen
· Pancreatic cancer
Pancreatitis can happen to anyone, but it is more common in individuals with certain risk factors. Risk factors of acute pancreatitis include:
· Heavy alcohol consumption
Risk factors for chronic pancreatitis include:
· Heavy alcohol intake for a longer period of time
· Certain genetic conditions (cystic fibrosis)
· Conditions such as high triglycerides and lupus
Pancreatitis can cause serious complications, including:
· Pseudocyst: The development of fluid filled cyst like sacs in the pancreas
· Breathing problems: The lowering of oxygen levels in the blood
· Diabetes: A disease that affects the way the body uses blood sugar
· Malnutrition: Lack of nutrients in the body
· Pancreatic cancer
· Kidney failure
Treatment for pancreatitis usually requires hospitalization. A few recommendations may include:
- Fasting (to stop eating for a couple of days in order to give the pancreas a chance to recover)
- Taking pain medications (to help control the pain and ease discomfort)
- Receiving intravenous fluids (to help repair the pancreas and prevent dehydration)
Once the inflammation in the pancreas is under control, doctors can treat the underlying cause of the pancreatitis. Treatment options can include:
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography: A procedure what uses a long tube with a camera to examine the pancreas and widen the bile ducts.
- Gallbladder surgery: Surgical removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy).
- Pancreas surgery: Surgical drainage of fluid from the pancreas or removal of damaged tissue
- A treatment program for alcohol addiction
Additional treatment options for chronic pancreatitis include:
- Medications for pain management
- Pancreatic enzyme supplements to help the body break down and process the nutrients absorbed from food intake.
- Dietary changes