Pancreatitis

1 What is Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is a health condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed.

The pancreas, a gland that can be found behind the stomach, is the organ responsible in producing enzymes and hormones that are required in digestion, as well as regulation of glucose in the body.

The condition can be either acute, which lasts for days, and chronic, or the one that occurs for an extended period of time. While a mild case usually goes away without treatment, a severe case of pancreatitis can cause complications that can be fatal.

2 Symptoms

The symptoms vary and depend on the type of pancreatitis you have.

For instance, if you have acute pancreatitis you may feel abdominal pain, tenderness in the abdomen, nausea, and vomiting.

Chronic pancreatitis, on the other hand, include symptoms, such as upper abdominal pain, unexplainable weight loss and steatorrhea (or oily and smelly stools).

3 Causes

Pancreatitis, both acute and chronic, has several causes. These include:

Pancreatitis takes place when the pancreas gets damaged, due to the activation of the digestive enzymes while still inside it. In a normal process of digestion, the pancreatic enzymes travel through channels in the pancreas, go through the small intestine and then becomes activated. In pancreatitis, the pancreatic enzymes get activated while still in the gland, thus irritating the pancreatic cells and causing inflammation. 

4 Making a Diagnosis

Making a diagnosis of pancreatitis is done by performing several tests.

If your abdominal pain is so severe that any position can’t make you comfortable, go to your doctor immediately. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist (a gastroenterologist for this case) if you have a suspected pancreatitis. When making an appointment with the doctor, it’s ideal to ask if there are any preparations you should do. Ask about diet restrictions, etc. 

Before going to the appointment, it would be advisable to write down important things about your condition, such as:

  • Symptoms that you are experiencing, and how long have you got them
  • Key personal information, such as medical background, major stresses, and if there are some major changes that happened lately
  • List of all the medications, supplements, or vitamins that you are taking

It would also help if you bring along a family member or a trusted friend with you to help you remember anything that you missed. Since your time with your doctor is limited, it’ll be ideal to write down the questions you would like to ask.

The doctor may request the following tests and procedures in order to diagnose the condition properly:

5 Treatment

Typically, pancreatitis treatment involves hospitalization. The symptoms are alleviated and the inflammation is controlled in the hospital, and then the doctor can treat its underlying cause. Pancreatitis treatment also involves:

  • Fasting: Fasting for a few days can give your pancreas time to recover. As the inflammation becomes under control, you may start consuming food and drinks again. Fasting is usually done in the hospital to keep you monitored and nourished with IV fluids.
  • Pain medications: Since pancreatitis can be really painful, your doctor may prescribe pain medicine to help ease the pain.
  • Intravenous (IV) fluids: You may get dehydrated as your body uses its stored fluid and energy in repairing your damaged organ. IV fluids are almost always a must to keep you hydrated. 

The underlying cause of pancreatitis will be treated once the condition itself is under control. The required treatment depends on the cause itself. Possible treatments include:

  • Removal of bile duct obstructions: If the pancreatitis is caused by a blocked bile duct, procedures may be done to open the duct and prevent blockage from happening again.
  • Gallbladder surgery: If the pancreatitis is caused by gallstones, removal of the gallbladder or cholecystectomy may be recommended.
  • Pancreas surgery: In order to remove damaged tissues or drain out pancreatic fluid, a surgery can be done to the pancreas.
  • Treatment for alcohol dependence: Several drinks per day for many years can total to a pancreatitis case. If alcohol dependence is a problem, your doctor may advise joining an alcohol addiction treatment program.

6 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

While there is no alternative therapy for pancreatitis, some remedies may help ease the pain that comes with it.

Chronic pancreatitis, for instance, can give you extreme abdominal pain that cannot be easily alleviated by medications.

You doctor may prescribe using alternative therapies to help you control the pain. Yoga, relaxation exercises, and meditation are great examples.

7 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary for recovery after hospital treatment of pancreatitis. These include:

  • Not drinking alcohol
  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Keeping yourself hydrated with fluids

8 Risks and Complications

Complications of pancreatitis can be serious. Be aware of these pancreatitis complications:

  • Pseudocyst. This takes place when the fluid and debris accumulate and form cyst-like pockets in the pancreas.
  • Infection. The pancreas becomes more vulnerable to bacteria and infection due to pancreatitis.
  • Difficulty breathing. Acute pancreatitis may result in chemical changes in the body, which may affect lung function and oxygen levels to drop. 
  • Diabetes. Chronic pancreatitis can damage the cells that produce insulin, which can lead to diabetes.
  • Kidney failure. The condition may result in kidney failure. 
  • Malnutrition. Pancreatitis, both acute and chronic, can cause malnutrition. This is due to the decreased production of enzymes required to process the nutrients from food.
  • Cancer of the pancreas. Chronic pancreatitis is one of the most common risk factor for having pancreatic cancer.
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