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Pancreatitis

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Introduction

The pancreas is a large visceral organ present in your belly. It is located behind your stomach and primarily functions to release powerful digestive enzymes into your small intestine. This enzyme helps in the digestion of your food.

About Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is the condition of an inflamed pancreas. There are two major functions of a pancreas: producing enzymes into the digestive system and producing hormones into the blood to regulate blood glucose levels. These hormones regulate the way your body processes glucose.

Pancreatitis can occur in an acute or chronic form. If it is sudden and lasts for a few days, it is known as acute pancreatitis. And, if it occurs over several years, it is known as chronic pancreatitis.

The severity may also vary. If it is a mild form, it can go away on its own, while the severe form can cause life-threatening complications.

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What Causes Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is caused when the enzymes secreted in the pancreas get activated before being released out of the pancreas.

One of the most common causes of chronic pancreatitis is recurrent acute pancreatitis. It damages the pancreas forming scar tissues and causing a loss of function. This shows systemic malfunctions like diabetes and difficulty indigestion.

Following conditions usually lead to pancreatitis, while sometimes the cause may not be found:

  • ● Alcoholism
  • ● Cystic fibrosis
  • ● Infection
  • ● Gallstones
  • ● Obesity
  • ● Pancreatic cancer
  • ● Certain medications
  • ● Abdominal injury
  • ● High triglyceride levels in the blood (hypertriglyceridemia)
  • ● Abdominal surgery
  • ● High calcium levels in the blood (hypercalcemia) caused by an overactive parathyroid gland (hyperparathyroidism).
  • ● A procedure used to treat gallstones known as Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

What are the Symptoms?

The symptoms of acute and chronic pancreatitis may differ. For acute pancreatitis,  we have the following signs and symptoms:

  • ● Fever
  • ● Nausea
  • ● Vomiting
  • ● Upper abdominal pain
  • ● Tenderness when touching the abdomen.
  • ● Abdominal pain radiating to your back.
  • ● Rapid pulse
  • ● Abdominal pain worsens after eating.

Chronic pancreatitis may cause the following symptoms:

  • ● Unintentional weight loss.
  • ● Pain in the upper abdomen.
  • ● Steatorrhea or smelly stool.

How to diagnose?

For making a diagnosis, your doctor may need to make the following tests:

  • ● Computerized tomography scan to assess the extent of pancreatic inflammation and look for gallstones. It is usually done along with ultrasound imaging with the same intention. Endoscopic ultrasound is also done to assess any blockages in the pancreatic duct or the bile duct. MRI is also an investigation of choice.
  • ● Blood tests to evaluate the levels of pancreatic enzymes. An elevated level is indicative.
  • ● In chronic pancreatitis, a stool test is recommended to measure levels of fat in the stool. This could suggest your digestive system isn’t absorbing nutrients adequately due to impaired pancreatic functions.

Treatment of pancreatitis

The treatment is done in the hospital. You may be asked to stop eating for a few days in the hospital. This is to give some rest to your pancreas. The doctors will keep a check on the inflammation of your pancreas. Once the inflammation comes under control, you will be allowed a liquid diet and bland food. Drinking plenty of water is also very important. IV fluids are also sometimes administered in severe dehydration. Eventually, you should be allowed normal food. Follow your dietitian’s guidelines.

In case you still develop pain in your abdomen after eating food, a feeding tube might be placed to help you get enough nutrition. Pain medications might also be given for severe pancreatitis pain.

Once you are stable, your doctor will move forward to identify the cause of your pancreatitis and take the necessary steps to treat it. The several treatments that are commonly done for pancreatitis are:

  • ● Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) – It is a procedure to remove the bile duct obstruction. A tube with an inbuilt camera is inserted down the throat, and the procedure is followed.
  • ● Cholecystectomy, or the surgery for removal of gallbladder stones, is performed.
  • ● A pancreatic surgery might also be needed to remove excess fluid from the organ or, if needed, pancreatic tissues.
  • ● If the cause is excessive drinking, this is treated with alcohol de-addiction programs. If you do not reduce or stop alcohol intake, your pancreatitis will become worse.
  • ● Pain medications are generally given along with alternative therapy in chronic pancreatitis. If needed, surgery can be performed to block the nerve causing pain.
  • ● You might be given pancreatic enzymes to be taken with each meal. This will suffice the lack of production.
  • ● A low-fat meal diet will be given to you by your dietitian. Follow it to avoid further complications and develop pain in the abdomen again.

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FAQ's

When to see a Doctor?

See your doctor if you feel persistent abdominal pain or if the pain is so severe that you can not find a comfortable position or sit still.

What are the Lifestyle Changes that are Needed?

To recover from Pancreatitis, you should avoid smoking, alcohol and should stop the habit altogether if possible. Follow a low-fat diet like including more vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, and fruits in your diet. Also, pancreatitis may cause dehydration. You should replenish the loss by drinking a lot of water every day.

Can Alternative Therapy Help in Treating Pancreatitis?

No, the alternative therapies can not cure the condition. However, they can help you cope with your pain. You can practice meditation, yoga, relaxation exercises, and acupuncture. These are especially helpful for individuals with chronic Pancreatitis as there is a constant pain that can not be managed merely with medications.

What Puts me at a Greater Risk of Developing Pancreatitis?

Certain factors like obesity, smoking habits, and excessive drinking habits put you at a higher risk of developing the disease. However, these can be changed with modification of lifestyle and habits. But, a family history of Pancreatitis plays an important role. Genetic predisposition has been greatly observed in individuals with chronic Pancreatitis.

Is there a Change in Bowel Movement Due to Pancreatitis?

Yes, you might notice a more bulky and smelly stool formation that has a lot of fat content. It is also known as steatorrhea and is due to a lack of fat-digesting enzymes that are formed by the Pancreas.

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