The pancreas can be damaged if its digestive enzymes attack it before the enzymes are released into the duodenum.
These enzymes are usually not active until they reach the duodenum.
Pancreatitis is the inflammation or irritation of the pancreas, a large gland behind the stomach that helps the body digest food and produces two important hormones, insulin and glucagon.
This organ secretes enzymes in a part of the intestine called the duodenum, which, in combination with the bile of the liver, helps digest food.
There are two types of pancreatitis: acute pancreatitis and chronic pancreatitis.
Approximately 210,000 patients with acute pancreatitis are hospitalized in the United States.
Acute pancreatitis is the sudden inflammation of the pancreas. With treatment, it usually disappears in a matter of days.
However, it can be life-threatening and leads to potentially serious complications.
Two common causes of acute pancreatitis include gallstone disease (gallstones irritate the pancreas as they move through the bile duct) and excessive alcohol consumption.
Other causes are infections, tumors, medications, stomach traumas, and genetic problems in the pancreas.
Chronic pancreatitis is a long-term inflammation and scarring of the pancreas.
It can cause abdominal pain, malnutrition, weight loss, and diabetes if the pancreas can no longer produce enough insulin.
The most common cause of chronic pancreatitis is excessive alcohol consumption over a prolonged period.
In addition, an episode of acute pancreatitis with damage to the pancreatic duct can trigger chronic pancreatitis.
Chronic pancreatitis is also caused by:
- Hereditary conditions of the pancreas, including cystic fibrosis.
- Hypercalcemia (too much calcium in the bloodstream).
- Autoimmune disorders, such as systemic lupus erythematosus.
- Other unknown factors
Symptoms of acute pancreatitis
The symptoms of acute pancreatitis begin with a sudden or gradual increase in pain in the upper part of the stomach. Pain is also sometimes felt in the posterior area. Other symptoms include:
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Fast pulse
Complications of severe acute pancreatitis include:
- Low blood pressure .
- Heart, lung, and renal insufficiency.
- Bleeding in the pancreas.
Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis
Some patients with chronic pancreatitis have no symptoms, while others may have the symptoms listed below:
- Fatty stools
- Oily diarrhea
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Unintentional weight loss
- Intermittent or constant abdominal pain that gets worse when drinking or eating.
- Diabetes is difficult to control.
People who have the symptoms of acute or chronic pancreatitis should consult their doctor or go to the emergency room to receive medical attention.
Diagnosis of acute and chronic pancreatitis
Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask you questions about your medical history. Your doctor may also request tests to help diagnose the problem, including:
Computed tomography (CT) scan:
- The patient lies on a table surrounded by the CT scanner in this X-ray procedure.
- The table moves in and out of the machine, taking multiple x-rays that a computer processes in three-dimensional body images.
- This test may show the presence of gallstones and damage to the pancreas.
- After numbing the patient’s throat, the doctor inserts an endoscope (a thin, flexible tube) into the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and duodenum.
- An ultrasound attachment in the endoscope emits sound waves, which create images of the bile ducts and pancreas.
Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP):
- This test uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to create cross-sectional images of the part of the body being studied.
- The patient lies inside a large tube that makes a magnetic field and pulses the radio wave’s energy to take pictures of the structures inside the body.
The patient lies on a table, and a technician moves a small device that makes sounds on the abdomen. The sound waves bounce off the organs, and the echoes make an image ( sonogram ) on a video screen.
The sound waves allow the doctor to see the pancreas, gallbladder, liver, other nearby organs, and any gallstones present.
The treatment of acute pancreatitis
Treatment for acute pancreatitis includes intravenous fluids, pain relief, and general supportive care. Patients are often admitted to the hospital for this treatment.
Treatment of chronic pancreatitis
Treatment includes pain management, digestive enzymes for poor digestion, and the control of diabetes, if necessary.
Prevention of pancreas disorder
Some steps can be taken to prevent pancreatitis:
- Any pancreatitis: Avoid foods high in fat; eat a diet rich in vegetables; drink enough liquid.
- Gallstone pancreatitis: surgically remove the gallbladder.
- Alcohol-induced or tobacco-induced pancreatitis: do not consume alcohol or tobacco.