Symptoms of pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is a condition where there is inflammation in the pancreas. Pancreas is a large elongated glandular organ lying near the stomach whose work is to secrete juices into the small intestine. In addition, it also releases hormones into the bloodstream like insulin, glucagon, and somatostatin.

Problem mainly occurs when a pancreatic enzyme that digests proteins (trypsin) are activated in the pancreas instead of the small intestine. This can raise sudden symptoms that may last for a few days (acute condition), or it can gradually worsen, in a period of years (chronic condition).

Mild cases usually do not need treatment, but severe cases needs medical attention as they can cause life-threatening complications.

Symptoms of pancreatitis

Pancreatitis signs and symptoms vary with patients. However, the most common symptoms are listed below.

Acute Symptoms

  • Abdominal pain radiating to back
  • Pain in upper abdomen
  • Abdominal pain, worsens after eating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tenderness in abdomen (when touched)

Chronic symptoms

  • Indigestion
  • Pain in upper abdomen
  • Weight loss
  • Smelly, oily stools (steatorrhea)

Causes of pancreatitis

As mentioned before, pancreatitis occurs when the digestive enzymes produced inside pancreas become activated still inside pancreas, which damages the organ.

This condition can be caused by these factors:

  • Gallstones
  • Alcoholism
  • Certain medications
  • Abdominal surgery
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Family history of pancreatitis
  • ERCP (Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography), when used for gallstones treatment
  • Hyperparathyroidism (High levels of parathyroid hormone in the blood)
  • Hypercalcemia (High calcium levels in the blood)
  • Infection
  • Hypertriglyceridemia (High triglyceride levels in the blood)
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Injury to the abdomen

Complications with pancreatitis

  • Diabetes. Chronic pancreatitis increases the risk of diabetes, as insulin (a hormone that controls blood sugar) is produced in the pancreas.
  • Breathing problems. Acute pancreatitis affects lung function, that may cause level of oxygen in blood to fall to very low levels.
  • Kidney (renal) failure. Acute pancreatitis may cause kidney failure.
  • Infection. Acute pancreatitis increases vulnerability of infection to the pancreas.
  • Malnutrition. It happens as fewer digestive enzymes are produced by pancreas.
  • Pseudocyst. Acute pancreatitis causes debris and fluid to collect in cyst-like pockets in the pancreas that causes further complications (such as infection and internal bleeding).
  • Pancreatic cancer. Chronic pancreatic inflammation raises the risk for pancreatic cancer.

Treatment of pancreatitis

In most cases, pancreatic problems reduce by itself, and no major treatment is necessary, but some conditions can arise that need treatment.

Treatment for acute pancreatitis

If pancreatitis arises due to gallstones, it may require removal of the gallbladder or endoscopic surgery of the bile duct. After removal of gallstones, the inflammation usually subsides, the pancreas functions normally.

Acute pancreatic attacks are primarily treated with medications and intravenous fluids. As severe pancreatitis can cause damage to the heart, lungs, or kidneys, the case is closely monitored, and surgery may be necessary for removal of damaged tissue in case of development of secondary infection. Some pancreatitis can even result in death of pancreatic tissue (pancreatic necrosis).

Treatment for chronic pancreatitis

Patients are generally given insulin or pancreatic enzymes, if these substances are insufficient in the body (as they are released by the pancreas).

Low-fat diet is advised.

Prescribed pancreatic enzyme pills are taken with meals to assist in nutrient absorption.

Surgery: In some cases, if there is blockage of the pancreatic duct, surgery is conducted to restore drainage of pancreatic secretions and relieve pain.

Alcohol consumption is extremely harmful in this condition, and must be quit completely to avoid further problems.

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