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The pancreas is located behind the stomach and have two very important functions. First, it helps produce digestive enzymes that help in digestion of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Second, it produces very important hormones called the insulin and glucagon. These hormones are involved in regulation of blood sugar levels, without which the sugar levels in the body will go for a toss. When the pancreas become inflamed, it leads to pancreatitis. It is a serious condition that requires medical attention.

Pancreatitis overview

Inflammation of the pancreas is called as pancreatitis. It can occur as an acute condition, that is, appears suddenly. Or it can occur over the years, turning into a chronic condition.  There are many causes of pancreatitis. It occurs when the digestive juices start attacking the pancreas leading to internal bleeding of the gland, tissue damage, cyst formation and infection. If the enzymes and toxins start leaking into the bloodstream, it will cause damage to other organs like the kidneys, lung and heart.

Types of pancreatitis

There are two types of pancreatitis. These include acute and chronic pancreatitis.

Acute pancreatitis

The sudden inflammation of the pancreas that occurs due to the presence of gallstones or excessive heavy alcohol consumption is called as acute pancreatitis. This condition can range from mild pancreatitis to severe, life threatening condition. However, prognosis is good in the majority of the cases.

Chronic pancreatits

Inflammation of the pancreas that occurs over a period of time or after one has undergone an episode of acute pancreatitis is called as chronic pancreatitis. It occurs due to long term use of alcohol and smoking. At times, it could be a hereditary condition. Chronic pancreatitis causes a lot a pain to the patient as well as loss of function of the pancreas.

Symptoms of pancreatits

Symptoms of acute pancreatitis include:

  • Severe upper abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Jaundice
  • Swelling in abdomen
  • Pain radiates to the back from the stomach

Chronic pancreatitis symptoms include:

Causes of pancreatitis

There are several causes of pancreatitis that leads to inflammation and severe pain. One of the most common causes of pancreatitis is excessive alcohol consumption. Gallstones too are one of the common reasons for pancreatitis. Other causes of pancreatitis include:

Use of medications like corticosteroids, diuretics, anticonculsants and HIV drugs. In some cases, chemotherapy drugs lead to pancreatitis.

  • Trauma to the abdomen or pancreas
  • Infection of viral agents such as cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, rubella, mumps, hepatitis
  • Presence of triglycerides in the blood
  • Presence of cystic fibrosis
  • Abdominal, cardiovascular or lung surgery that causes temporary blockage of blood to pancreas leading to its damage
  • Hypercalcemia
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Hyperparathyroidism
  • Chain smoking
  • Infection of bacteria like Mycoplasma, salmonella, Leptospira, etc.
  • Parasitic infection like Toxoplasma, Ascaris, etc.

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Diagnosis of pancreatitis

Diagnosis is based on the characteristic pain in abdomen. Blood tests to check for blood amylase and lipase levels. Abdominal ultrasound to check for gallstones, alcoholic fatty liver disease and inflammation of the pancreas. CT scans in some cases to differentiate between bowel infarction, peptic ulcer, pancreatitis and other similar digestive conditions.

Treatment for pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis attack requires the patient to be admitted to the ICU ward of the hospital. The heart, kidney, lungs, etc. are closely monitored as pancreatitis can lead to damage to other organs. The patient is not given food to eat for a few days and given a liquid diet. The fluids are given intravenously to prevent the patient from undergoing hypovolemic shock. This is because during an attack, the body uses up all the bodily fluids to repair the pancreas. Thus, fluids are given intravenously to maintain the balance. Pain killers are given to relieve the pain. Gallstones are removed if they are causing pancreatitis. The patient is advised complete abstinence from drinking alcohol.

Surgery is required in some cases that includes removal of bile duct obstructions, pancreatic surgery to drain excessive fluid in the damaged pancreas tissue, and gallbladder surgery. In case of chronic pancreatitis, hospitalization may be required, but the patient is kept in a general ward. Medications are given to relieve the pain, enzyme supplements given to help in digestion and low-fat meals suggested to control the symptoms.

Prognosis of pancreatitis

The prognosis for severe acute pancreatitis is not so good as the mortality rate is very high. This is true especially in cases, when the pancreas has undergone necrosis. However, the overall prognosis is good, if the treatment is given on time and the patient follows all medical advises diligently.

This was all about pancreatitis. Smoking and drinking should be carried out in a limit to prevent an acute pancreatitis attack. Gallstones should be treated soon, in order to prevent pancreatitis from occurring. For further information, speak to your healthcare provider for more details on pancreatitis.

Written by: healthplus24.com team

Date last updated: January 15, 2015

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