What is pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, the pancreas is a gland located behind the stomach. The pancreas plays a key role in the digestion of food, as it is responsible for the production of certain enzymes, as well as the production of hormones that help in the processing of blood glucose levels. There are two types of pancreatitis: acute and chronic. Acute pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas suddenly becomes inflamed. Chronic pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas is permanently damaged due to inflammation of the pancreas over many years.

The pancreas plays a key role in the digestion of food, as it is responsible for the production of certain enzymes.

What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?

The symptoms of acute pancreatitis are:

  • Sudden abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting

Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis are:

  • Sudden and often severe abdominal pain (sometimes accompanied by nausea).
  • Fatty, foul-smelling stools

If you experience frequent abdominal pain, it is important to visit a specialist.

What are the causes of pancreatitis?

Acute pancreatitis is thought to occur when digestive enzymes are activated while in the pancreas, causing irritation of the pancreatic cells and thus inflammation. Acute pancreatitis has also been related to the formation of gallstones, alcohol consumption, infections and by taking some medications. Chronic pancreatitis is largely attributed to prolonged alcohol abuse, smoking, inherited genetic mutations and immune system problems. In some cases, the causes of the diagnosis of pancreatitis are never clarified.

How is pancreatitis diagnosed?

There are a number of tests used to make a diagnosis:

  • Blood tests to check enzyme levels in the pancreas.
  • Stool sample analysis to measure fat levels. Fatty stools may indicate problems with the digestive system.
  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) or CT scanning is used to detect gallstones.
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What is the treatment for pancreatitis?

Treatment for acute pancreatitis is intended to support body functions until the inflammation has subsided. The first step in treating acute pancreatitis is to allow the pancreas to heal and the inflammation to subside. To accomplish this, it is necessary to receive treatment in the hospital where you will be given intravenous fluids to replace lost fluids and medications to control pain. Fasting for a few days also helps the pancreas recover.

Once the pancreas has recovered, physicians can begin to treat the underlying cause of the pancreatitis. Often, these additional treatments may include:

  • Pancreas surgery- sometimes it is necessary to remove damaged pancreatic tissue or drain excess fluid from the pancreas.
  • Gallbladder surgery- removal of the gallbladder may be necessary if gallstones are the cause of pancreatitis.
  • Treating alcohol addiction- if alcohol abuse is the cause of your pancreatitis, you may need to enter an alcohol addiction detoxification program.

For those suffering from chronic pancreatitis, you may need additional treatments, which include:

  • Lifestyle changes – adopting a nutritious, low-fat diet, avoiding alcohol and quitting smoking, can provide the best results for people suffering from chronic pancreatitis.
  • Enzyme supplements – help improve digestion of food and can be taken with every meal.
  • Pain medications- chronic pancreatitis causes constant abdominal pain, so this pain often needs to be controlled.