Pancreatitis is an inflammation in your pancreas. The pancreas is a long and flat gland that is located behind the stomach in your upper abdomen. Pancreas produces enzymes that helps in digestion and also helps hormones which helps in regulating the way your body processes sugar (glucose).
Pancreatitis – Key facts
The pancreas is a gland that is a part of the digestive and endocrine system of human beings. It is flat and around 6-inches long. It is located behind your stomach and lies next to the small intestine. This gland serves two essential functions in your body. These include: –
- Producing enzymes that aid in digestion.
- Producing hormones, glucagon, and insulin to help your body to regulate blood glucose (sugar).
What are the types of pancreatitis?
There are two types of pancreatitis:
- Acute pancreatitis – Inflammation in the pancreas comes all of a sudden and lasts for a short period. This condition may vary from mild to critical to even life-threatening complications. In most cases, it completely resolves with the right treatment. However, if your condition is severe, it can cause significant tissue damage, bleeding, cysts, and infection. It can also affect other organs like kidneys, lungs, and heart.
- Chronic pancreatitis – In this condition, the inflammation is long-lasting . In most cases, chronic pancreatitis happens after the occurrence of acute pancreatitis. Heavy alcohol consumption is one of the leading causes of this disease. Most importantly, alcohol-induced pancreatitis might go unnoticed for years andup suddenly with severe symptoms.
What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?
The signs and symptoms of pancreatitis differ from one person to another and also for the disease types mentioned above.
In cases of acute pancreatitis, the symptoms include –
- Upper abdominal pain
- Abdominal pain that radiates to your back
- Abdominal pain that feels worse after eating
- Rapid pulse
- Tenderness when touching the abdomen
Chronic pancreatitis signs and symptoms include:
- Upper abdominal pain
- Losing weight without any reason
- Oily, smelly stools (steatorrhea }
When should you go to your doctor?
If you experience persistent pain in your abdomen, or you are unable to sit or sleep comfortably, get yourself examined. .
Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment.
What are the causes of pancreatitis?
When your digestive enzymes are activated, it happens to hurt your pancreatic cells while still inside your pancreas and causes soreness and swelling.
Recurring episodes of acute pancreatitis cause significant damage to your pancreas and is likely to worsen into chronic pancreatitis. The formation of scar tissues inside your organ can lead to functional impairment . This can also lead to other opportunistic diseases including diabetes and digestive disorders. Scar tissue can be formed in the pancreas, causing loss of function. Poorly functioning pancreas may cause digestion problems and diabetes
The health conditions that may cause pancreatitis include the following –
- Pancreatic cancer.
- Abdominal surgery.
- Gall bladder stone.
- Cystic fibrosis.
- Hypertriglyceridemia (high blood triglyceride levels).
- Hypercalcemia (high blood calcium levels) due to hyperparathyroidism (hyperactive parathyroid gland).
- Certain types of medications or treatments.
- Abdominal trauma.
- Metabolic disorders.
A procedure called Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) that is performed for gallstone treatment can also cause pancreatitis.
In around 15% of cases of acute pancreatitis, the cause is unexplained. And for up to 20-30% of people with chronic pancreatitis, the underlying etiology is not clear .
What are the risk factors of pancreatitis?
The following are the leading risk factors of pancreatitis –
- Heavy alcohol consumption – Excessive alcoholism means consuming at least four to five drinks per day. Studies show that people who are heavy drinkers are at a higher risk of this disease.
- Smoking – In comparison to non-smokers, people who smoke cigarettes are three times more susceptible to chronic pancreatitis. However, quitting the same decreases the risk by 50%.
- Obesity – If you are obese, you are at a higher risk of developing pancreatitis.
- Family history – In cases of chronic pancreatitis , genetics plays an important role. If anyone in your family has/had this health condition, your chances are likely to increase.
What complications can pancreatitis cause?
The complications that may arise due to pancreatitis include the following –
- Formation of pseudocyst – Acute pancreatitis can lead to the accumulation of debris and fluid in your pancreas in cyst-like pouches. These pouches or pockets are known as pseudocysts. If a large pseudocyst bursts , it can cause infections and internal bleeding.
- Infection – Acute pancreatitis is likely to make your pancreas prone to infection, which can further need intensive treatment, including surgery.
- Diabetes – Chronic pancreatitis causes damage to the pancreatic cells that produce insulin, resulting in diabetes.
Besides the above, renal (kidney) failure, malnutrition, breathing difficulties, and pancreatic cancer are the possible complications of pancreatitis.
How is pancreatitis diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects that you may have pancreatitis, they are likely to recommend the following tests based on your condition –
- Blood tests to check for elevated levels of the pancreatic enzymes
- Stool tests (in chronic pancreatitis) to measure the levels of fat that may suggest that your digestive system is not absorbing nutrients sufficiently
- CT (Computerized Tomography) scan to check for gallstones and evaluate the extent of the pancreas inflammation
- Abdominal ultrasound to check for pancreas inflammation and gallstones
- Endoscopic ultrasound to look for inflammation and blockages in the pancreatic duct or bile duct
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look for abnormalities in the gallbladder, pancreas and ducts
How is pancreatitis treated?
If you have pancreatitis, your doctor is likely to give the following treatments at a healthcare facility initially –
- Fasting – Your doctor may recommend fasting for a few days to help your pancreas heal. Once the swelling and tenderness are under control, you may have clear soups and light , bland foods and gradually move into your regular diet. In case the pain and inflammation continue, your doctor may prescribe a feeding tube so that you can get adequate nutrition.
- Intravenous (IV) fluids. A considerable amount of fluid requirement and energy expenditure goes into repairing the pancreas. It can lead to dehydration. Therefore, you may get the additional fluid supply intravenously.
Top painkillers for abdominal pain
This health condition can be distressing and painful. If you experience severe pain, your doctor may prescribe painkillers to help subside the pain. Your doctor will prescribe painkillers according to the intensity of your pain. Here are the top five painkillers –
- Analgesic – For mild pain, drugs such as aspirin or acetaminophen may be given . If it does not help you, then your doctor may suggest taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and Naproxen.
- Weak opioids – For severe pain that does not improve even after taking the above medication, your doctor may prescribe opioids. It includes Codeine, Tramadol, Dihydrocodeine, and Buprenorphine.
- Strong opioids – It includes Hydromorphone, Pethidine, Oxycodone, Fentanyl, Morphine, and Methadone.
- Antidepressants – If your doctor diagnoses that you have nerve pain, they may suggest drugs for controlling the same, including Amitriptyline, Nortriptyline, or Desipramine.
- Gabapentinoids – If your pain is out of control, your doctor may suggest Gabapentinoids, including Pregabalin and Gabapentin.
Surgical procedures and other additional treatments
After the pain and inflammation in your pancreas subside, your doctor will start treating the underlying cause of this disease and direct your further treatment accordingly. It includes –
- Surgeries to remove obstructions in the bile duct – If your pancreatitis is due to narrowing or blockage in the bile duct, your doctor may perform procedures to remove the same to widen up your bile duct.
Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) – This procedure uses a thin long tube with a camera fitted at its end. Your doctor will insert this tube down your throat . The ERCP can aid in diagnosing problems in the bile duct and pancreatic duct and in making repairs.
- Gallbladder surgery – Sometimes, stones in the gall bladder also lead to pancreatitis. In such cases, your doctor may perform gallbladder surgery (cholecystectomy) to remove it.
- Pancreatic surgery – If you have excess fluid accumulation in your pancreas or have developed diseased tissue, your doctor may perform pancreatic surgery to remove the scar tissue and drain out the fluid.
- Therapy for alcohol-dependence – If you have chronic pancreatitis due to excessive dependence on alcohol, your doctor will recommend a treatment for alcohol addiction.
Based on your current health condition, your doctor may prescribe additional treatments. It includes –
- Pain management – There can be constant and disabling pain in your abdomen. In such scenarios, your doctor may ask you to seek assistance from a pain specialist, apart from prescribing pain relievers.
- Dietary modification – Monitoring your diet helps in managing pancreatitis. Therefore, your doctor may recommend a dietician for the same.
- Enzymes to aid digestion – Your doctor may suggest having enzyme supplements. These medications help break down and process your food and allow your body to get an adequate amount of nutrition.
What are the preventive measures for pancreatitis?
Here are some preventive measure that you can take –
- Quit smoking – Smoking can be deadly. So, stop smoking. If you cannot, seek help from your doctor.
- Stop alcohol consumption – Drinking alcohol with pancreatitis can be life-threatening.
- Keep yourself hydrated – Drink a lot of water and other fluids to keep yourself hydrated.
- Eat a low-fat diet – Go on a low-fat diet that comprises whole grains, fresh vegetables, fruits, and lead protein.
A health condition like pancreatitis, acute or chronic, if left untreated, can be life-threatening. Therefore, make sure that you see your doctor as soon as you suspect a problem with your system.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
- Can a swollen pancreas affect other organs?
A swollen and inflamed pancreas starts releasing toxins and inflammatory cells. These cells can damage your heart, kidneys, and lungs.
- If you have pancreatitis, which side of your body will hurt?
As your pancreas is located on the left side of your body, you will feel the pain (the main symptom) in the left upper quadrant of abdomen
Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment.