The pancreas is a long, flat gland in the upper abdomen, behind the stomach, producing enzymes helping digestion and hormones regulating your body's use of sugar.
Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, and can be acute, appearing suddenly and lasting a few days, or chronic, which lasts for years. Mild cases may disappear on their own, while severe cases may be life-threatening.
Symptoms of acute pancreatitis include:
- Upper abdominal pain, possibly radiating to your back, possibly worse after eating
- Abdominal tenderness
Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include:
- Upper abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Oily, smelly stools
If you have any of these symptoms persistently, contact your Wellstar physician. If you have severe abdominal pain, seek immediate medical help.
Pancreatitis Causes and Prevention
Normally, the digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas are inert until they enter the small intestine, where they become activated. Pancreatitis occurs when the enzymes become activated while still in the pancreas, irritating it and causing inflammation. Repeated bouts of acute pancreatitis can permanently damage the pancreas, leading to chronic pancreatitis.
- Overuse of alcohol
- Abdominal surgery
- Certain medications
- Cystic fibrosis
- Family history of pancreatitis
- High blood calcium
- High levels of parathyroid hormone
- Abdominal injury
- Pancreatic cancer
Tests to diagnose pancreatitis include:
- Blood tests for pancreatic enzymes
- Stool tests for fat, indicating that fat isn't being digested
- Computerized tomography (CT) to find gallstones and pancreatic inflammation
- Ultrasound to find inflammation and blockages
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to find abnormalities
Your Wellstar physician will usually recommend hospitalization to stabilize your pancreatitis and begin treatment.
The first step is usually to rest your pancreas by fasting, and to control any pain. If you become dehydrated, you'll be given fluids intravenously. Once the inflammation is under control, you may drink clear liquids and eat bland foods. Eventually, you may be able to return to a normal diet; otherwise, you may need a feeding tube.
Once the inflammation is under control, its underlying cause can be attacked. Treatments, depending on the cause, include:
- Removal of bile duct obstruction with therapeutic endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
- If gallstones caused the pancreatitis, the gall bladder may be removed
- Fluid may be drained or diseased tissue removed from the pancreas
- Treatment for alcoholism
- Pain management
- Pancreatic enzyme supplements
- A lower fat diet
- Smoking cessation