The pancreas is a gland located in the upper part of the abdomen. It produces two main types of substances: digestive juices and digestive hormones. Pancreatitis simply means inflammation (-itis) of the pancreas. Once the gland becomes inflamed, the condition can progress to swelling of the gland and the surrounding blood vessels, bleeding, infection, and damage to the gland. The digestive juices have nowhere to go and now they start digesting the gland itself.
Types of Pancreatitis:
- Acute pancreatitis usually begins soon after the damage to the pancreas begins. Attacks are typically very mild, but about 20% of them are very severe. An attack lasts for a short time and usually resolves completely as the pancreas returns to its normal state. Some people have only one attack, whereas other people have more than one.
- Chronic pancreatitis begins as acute pancreatitis. If the pancreas becomes scarred during the attack of acute pancreatitis, it cannot return to its normal state. The damage to the gland continues, worsening with time.
The causes of both types are almost the same
- 80%-90% due to excessive alcohol intake (for at least five to seven years) and presence of gallstones (about 35%-45% for each). Pancreatitis due to gallstones tends to occur most often in women older than 50 years of age.
- 10%-20% due to certain medications, exposure to certain chemicals, trauma (accidents), hereditary diseases, infections (for e.g. mumps), surgical procedures, high fat levels in the blood and genetic abnormalities of pancreas or intestine.
Signs and Symptoms:
- Acute: Abdominal pain that might increase after eating or lying flat on bed. It can also be associated with nausea, fever and tachycardia (increased heart beat). The pain may come on suddenly (very severe pain) or build up gradually (it starts out mild but may become severe). The pain is usually present in the upper middle or upper left part of the belly (abdomen) and feels as if it radiates from the front of the abdomen through to the back.
- Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis may or may not include abdominal pain but may include bleeding due to anemia, jaundice, weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, and diabetes.
- Hospital admission
- Oxygen for dyspnea
- IV infusion of medications and fluids
- Antibiotics: if infection is present
- If the attack lasts longer than a few days, nutritional supplements are administered through an IV line.
For Chronic cases:
- Treatment focuses on relieving pain and avoiding further aggravation to the pancreas
- Analgesics for severe pain
- A high carbohydrate, low fat diet; and eating smaller more frequent meals help prevent aggravating the pancreas
- Strongly advise: stop alcohol consumption
- Insulin injections may be required if diabetes is noticed
Like what you see? Sign up to join Human Health Project, a community-based, not-for-profit website focused on using peer to peer health support for a healthier you.