What is pancreatitis? This is a disease process in which the pancreas becomes inflamed. The pancreas is an organ that sits behind the stomach in the upper abdomen. It is responsible for producing enzymes that help metabolize or break down sugar in the food that we eat. It also helps aid in other digestive processes. Acute pancreatitis comes on quickly and usually only lasts a few days. Chronic pancreatitis is an inflammatory process that has been ongoing for many years.
Normally what happens is that the pancreas produces enzymes and then they travel down to the small intestine where in the presence of partially digested food, they are activated and go to work. When pancreatitis occurs, these enzymes are activated early while still in the pancreas and due to this, they cause damage and inflammation to the pancreas itself. If this is an ongoing process such as with chronic pancreatitis, the pancreas can become scarred due to the chronic inflammation. This can lead to damage and loss of function of the pancreas. If this happens, it can cause diabetes or other digestive problems in the future.
Mild cases of pancreatitis can resolve themselves meaning it can go away in a short amount of time without undue complications however severe bouts can be life threatening. Anyone that suspects that they might have pancreatitis needs to be evaluated by a medical professional immediately!
So what are the signs and symptoms of pancreatitis? The first signs and symptoms of acute pancreatitis are upper abdominal pain that tends to occur after eating and radiates to the back. This type of pain may be made better by the person curling up into a ball or by them leaning forward. Nausea and vomiting may occur as well. Another symptoms is pain and tenderness upon touching the abdomen. The signs and symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include upper abdominal pain and indigestion, unexplained weight loss and stools that are oily and smelly.
So what exactly causes pancreatitis? There are many things that can cause pancreatitis. Two of the most common causes of pancreatitis are alcoholism and gallstones. Other causes of this disease include a family history of pancreatitis, certain medications, cigarette smoking, abdominal surgery, infections, pancreatic cancer, ulcers, hypocalcaemia and hyperparathyroidism.
Having pancreatitis can lead to some very serious problems and can lead to some of the following complications. One of the most common complications of pancreatitis is diabetes. The pancreas produces insulin which breaks down the sugars that we eat in our food. Damage to the pancreas decreases the amount of insulin that can be produced. This can lead to developing diabetes.
Having acute pancreatitis can cause certain chemical changes that will affect the lungs. This causes the amount of oxygen that is present in the blood to drop drastically which can constitute a medical emergency. Pancreatitis can also lead to kidney failure. Having kidney failure can result in having to have dialysis in order to survive.
Since the pancreas is responsible for producing enzymes that help aid our digestive process, when it is damaged or not functioning properly due to inflammation, our food does not get metabolized properly. This can lead to malabsorption syndrome. Malnutrition and weight loss can follow quickly.
People who have chronic inflammation of the pancreas are at a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Pancreatitis can also cause fluid filled cysts to develop in pockets of the pancreas. If one of these ruptures it can result in infection and internal bleeding.
Pancreatitis can be diagnosed with laboratory work and either CT or MRI scans after a thorough history and physical with a medical professional. Treatment for this disease includes being admitted to the hospital for observation and treatment which will include allowing the pancreas to rest. This includes abstaining from eating. In doing this the pancreas will have a chance to allow the inflammation to subside. Pain medication may be prescribed as this disease does include severe abdominal pain the majority of the time. Intravenous fluids are usually administered in order to keep fluid and electrolyte levels in balance as well.
Your physician will look for the underlying cause of the pancreatitis while in the hospital as well. If this is due to gallstones or a possible bile duct obstruction, surgery may be recommended in order to remedy those situations. Other therapy for alcohol dependence or counseling may be recommended as needed.
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