Pancreas is located behind the stomach and it secretes enzymes responsible for digesting food and regulating how body manages glucose.
Pancreatitis is pathologic inflammation of the pancreas. The condition can come and go quickly, or it can be a chronic problem. Treatment will depend on whether your pancreatitis is chronic or acute.
What are the types of pancreatitis?
The start of acute pancreatitis is often very sudden. The inflammation usually resolves on its own within several days after treatment begins.
The most common cause of acute pancreatitis is gallstones. Gallstones are small, solid masses that form from bile. A large gallstone can get stuck at the junction where the main pancreatic duct and the common bile duct come together to form another duct called the ampulla of Vater. These ducts empty into the first part of the small intestine called the duodenum.
The pancreatic duct carries digestive enzymes from the pancreas. The common bile duct carries bile or other biliary substances from the liver and gallbladder. When a gallstone gets stuck here, it can cause a holdup of these substances. This can lead to inflammation in both the common bile duct and pancreas.
Chronic pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that occurs constantly over long period. Permanent damage can occur in the pancreas for people with pancreatitis. Scar tissue grows from this long-term inflammation.
Extensive scar tissue may cause your pancreas to stop making the normal amounts of digestive enzymes, or glucose-regulating hormones. This may cause a person to have trouble digesting fats (which are needed to be able to absorb these enzymes), and develop diabetes.
In adults, alcoholism is a common cause of both acute and chronic pancreatitis. Long-term alcohol abuse is the most common cause of chronic pancreatitis in adults. Autoimmune and genetic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, can also cause chronic pancreatitis in some people.
What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?
Symptoms of pancreatitis may include:
- middle-left upper abdominal pain
- pain that wraps around the upper body and involves the back in a band-like pattern
- nausea or vomiting
- abdominal tenderness
- unintentional weight loss
- bloating with a distended (swollen) abdomen
People who have chronic pancreatitis may also experience steatorrhea, which is fatty stools that give off a very foul odor. Steatorrhea can be a sign of malabsorption which occurs when you excrete all of your essential nutrients from your diet because your pancreas doesn’t produce and secrete enough digestive enzymes to break down your food.
Pain associated with pancreatitis may last from a few minutes to several hours at a time. In severe cases, discomfort from chronic pancreatitis could become constant. Your pain may increase after you eat or when you’re lying down. Try sitting up or leaning forward to make yourself more comfortable.
Your doctor will likely use a combination of blood tests and imaging studies to make a proper diagnosis. If you have acute pancreatitis, you’ll have severe abdominal pain and blood tests may show a significant rise in your level of pancreatic enzymes.
Different types of MRI, ultrasound, and CT scans can reveal the anatomy of your pancreas, showing any signs of inflammation, and information about the biliary and pancreatic ducts.
Also, a fecal fat test can also determine if your stools have fat content that’s abnormal.
A person with acute or chronic pancreatitis may need hospitalization. The pancreas is a key contributor to your digestive processes and needs to rest to heal.
You may receive specifically tailored fluids and nutrition intravenously (IV) or through a tube that goes from your nose directly into your stomach. This is called a nasogastric feeding tube.
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Some people feel better after a couple of days, so they can restart a normal oral diet. Other people need a week or two to recuperate properly.
In recuperating from pancreatic, a healthy diet low in fat, is essential. People with chronic pancreatitis in particular need to be careful about the amount of fat they consume since their pancreas function has become compromised.
Consume small meals during the day to put minimal stress on your digestive system.
Stick to low-fat dairy foods and drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated. Your doctor might also give you vitamin supplements to ensure that you’re getting the right nutrients.
Determining the underlying cause of your pancreatitis is part of the treatment process. If your doctor diagnoses gallstones or other blockages of the bile ducts, you may require surgery to correct these problems.
You may need to quit smoking tobacco and cut down on your intake of alcohol to help you heal more quickly and completely.
Complications and risks
Some people may develop complications. These complications are rare, but they’re more common in people with chronic pancreatitis:
Difficulties in breathing may be associated with people who have acute pancreatitis.
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