Gastro Health

Pancreatitis

Written by
Dr. Sneha Kannan
and medically reviewed by Dr. Bhavin Bhupendra Vasavada

Published on Aug 09, 2019   -  5 min read

Abstract

Abstract

The pancreas is a 6-inch long organ present in the abdomen behind the stomach. It does both digestive and endocrinal functions. Its endocrine function includes regulating the blood sugar levels by secreting hormones insulin, glucagon, somatostatin, and pancreatic peptide.

Pancreatitis

What Is Pancreas?

The pancreas is a 6-inch long organ present in the abdomen behind the stomach. It does both digestive and endocrinal functions. Its endocrine function includes regulating the blood sugar levels by secreting hormones insulin, glucagon, somatostatin, and pancreatic peptide. It also helps in digestion by secreting pancreatic juice (digestive juice) through the pancreatic duct into the duodenum.

What Is Pancreatitis?

Inflammation of the pancreas is called pancreatitis. This inflammation can appear suddenly or last for days. Mild cases resolve on their own without treatment, but some severe and acute cases might result in life-threatening complications.

What Are the Types of Pancreatitis?

The two types of are:

  • Acute pancreatitis.

  • Chronic pancreatitis.

What Are the Risk Factors for Pancreatitis?

Gallbladder stones and heavy alcohol use are the two most common risk factors for developing pancreatitis.

ACUTE PANCREATITIS:

This type of inflammation develops quickly. The milder forms do not require treatment, but its severe form should be managed promptly to avoid fatal complications.

It can result in the death (necrosis) of pancreatic tissues and sepsis, which can lead to multiorgan failure. Acute blood and fluid loss can result in hypovolemic shock, which can lead to oxygen deprivation and death.

Symptoms of Acute Pancreatitis

The symptoms of acute pancreatitis are:

  • Sudden pain in the center of the upper abdomen.

  • Pain spreads to the back.

  • Pain increases on eating.

  • Vomiting and diarrhea.

  • Loss of appetite.

  • Fever.

  • Rapid pulse.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Yellowish discoloration of skin and sclera (jaundice).

  • High or low blood pressure.

Causes of Acute Pancreatitis

The common causes of acute pancreatitis are:

Treatment of Acute Pancreatitis

1. For mild cases, medicines are given to relieve symptoms as the pancreas heals itself. The treatment includes -

  • Painkillers.

  • A tube to remove excess liquid and air (nasogastric tubes).

  • Restricting food and liquid intake through mouth.

  • Fluids to prevent dehydration.

2. For severe cases -

  • If caused by a bacterial infection, antibiotics are given intravenously.

  • To prevent hypovolemic shock, intravenous fluids are administered.

  • Ventilation to assist breathing.

  • Nutrition is provided through feeding tubes.

  • Necrotic tissues in the pancreas are surgically removed.

CHRONIC PANCREATITIS:

Chronic pancreatitis is a slow and progressive disease of the pancreas, which leads to permanent damage to the structure and function of the pancreas. Men are more commonly affected than women.

Symptoms of Chronic Pancreatitis

The common initial symptoms include:

  • Severe upper abdominal pain.

  • Pain is accompanied by vomiting and nausea.

  • Foul-smelling stools.

  • Stomach cramps.

  • Bloating.

  • Abdominal gas.

This can damage the pancreas, which eventually is not able to produce insulin, resulting in type 1 diabetes. At this stage, the patient experiences symptoms of diabetes like increased thirst and hunger, frequent urination, weight loss, fatigue, and blurred vision.

Causes of Chronic Pancreatitis

The common causes include:

  • Recurrent episodes of acute pancreatitis.

  • Alcoholism.

  • Gallstones.

  • When the cause is not known, it is called idiopathic chronic pancreatitis.

  • Autoimmune condition.

  • Cystic fibrosis.

  • Family history.

Treatment of Chronic Pancreatitis

The following are the treatment options:

  • Lifestyle modification -

    • The pain is significantly relieved by giving up alcohol.

    • Quit smoking, as it can make the disease progress quickly.

  • Painkillers are given to manage pain and depression, which results from chronic pain.

  • If the patient has developed type 1 diabetes, Insulin injections are given for the rest of the life.

  • Surgery -

    • Endoscopic surgery - This is done to open blocked ducts in the pancreas.

    • Pancreas resection - The head of the pancreas is removed.

    • Total pancreatectomy - The entire pancreas is surgically removed.

    • Autologous pancreatic islet cell transplantation (APICT) - After a total pancreatectomy, islet cells from the removed pancreas are injected into the portal vein of the liver. These cells produce insulin.

Diet to Follow If You Have Pancreatitis:

If you are suffering from acute or chronic pancreatitis, make sure you consume a diet rich in protein, low in animal fats, and rich in antioxidants.

Food items to include-

  • Lean meats.

  • Beans.

  • Lentils.

  • Clear soup.

  • Blueberries.

  • Spinach.

  • Cherries.

  • Dairy replacements.

  • Whole grains.

  • Cherry tomatoes.

  • Cucumbers.

Food items to avoid:

  • Deep-fried foods.

  • Red meat.

  • Dairy products.

  • Butter and mayonnaise.

  • Sugary beverages.

How Is Pancreatitis Diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects pancreatitis, he or she might tell you to perform the following tests:

  1. Blood test - to check levels of pancreatic enzymes.

  2. Stool test - to check the fat levels.

  3. CT scan or abdominal ultrasound - to look for gallstones.

  4. MRI scan - to check any abnormalities of pancreas and surrounding organs.

  5. Endoscopic ultrasound - to check pancreatic or bile duct blockage.

What Are the Complications of Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis can result in the following complications:

  • Makes the pancreas susceptible to viral or bacterial infections.

  • Type 1 diabetes.

  • Kidney failure.

  • Pseudocyst (collection of fluid and debris in the pancreas).

  • Breathing problems due to a drop in oxygen levels.

  • Malnutrition.

  • Increased risk for developing pancreatic cancer.

How to Prevent Pancreatitis?

You can reduce the risk of pancreatitis by:

  • Limit alcohol consumption.

  • Avoid smoking.

  • Consume a low-fat diet.

  • Exercise regularly.

  • Reduce weight, if you are overweight.

  • Avoid going on crash diets.

Pancreatitis can be managed with a few alterations in your lifestyle and by taking proper medications. To know more about the treatment options, consult a gastroenterologist online.

Last reviewed at:
09 Aug 2019  -  5 min read

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