Pancreatitis means inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is a gland, producing two main types of substances: digestive juices and digestive hormones thus playing important role in digestion.
Inflammation of the pancreas has various causes. Once the gland becomes inflamed, it can worsen the things and can lead to swelling of the gland and surrounding blood vessels, bleeding, infection, and damage to the gland. There, digestive juices become trapped and start “digesting” the pancreas itself. If this damage persists, the gland may not be able to carry out normal functions.
Pancreatitis may be acute (new, short-term) or chronic (ongoing, long-term). Both can be life threatening.
Acute pancreatitis usually begins soon after the damage to the pancreas begins. Attacks are typically very mild, but some of them are very severe. An attack lasts for a short time and usually resolves completely as the pancreas returns to its normal state.
Chronic pancreatitis begins as acute pancreatitis. If the scar develops in pancreas during the attack of acute pancreatitis, it cannot return to its normal state. The damage to the gland continues, worsening over time.
Pancreatitis can occur in people of all ages, although it is very rare in children. Pancreatitis occurs in men and women, although chronic pancreatitis is more common in men than in women.
Alcohol abuse: Pancreatitis from alcohol use usually occurs in patients who have been long-term alcohol drinkers for at least five to seven years. Most cases of chronic pancreatitis are due to alcohol abuse.
Gallstones: A gallstone can block the pancreatic duct, trapping digestive juices inside the pancreas. Pancreatitis due to gallstones tends to occur most often in women older than 50 years of age.
Certain medications can cause inflammation of pancreas.
Exposure to certain chemicals may also be the cause.
Any injury (trauma), as might happen in a car accident or bad fall leading to abdominal trauma
Hereditary presence of pancreatitis can be the cause.
One of the uncommon causes may be the infections such as mumps.
High fat levels in the blood.
In about 15% of cases of acute pancreatitis and 40% of cases of chronic pancreatitis, the cause is never known. But 80-90% of the patients are either alcoholic or show the history of gall bladder stones.
As pancreatitis is the result of an inflammation of the pancreas, it causes typical symptoms, such as severe constant abdominal pain, sometimes with back pain. The pain is generally worse with eating or drinking and may be somewhat relieved by sitting up and leaning forward. Pain usually lies in upper part of the abdomen.
Symptoms of acute pancreatitis may include abdominal swelling, fever, pallor, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
Some people with chronic pancreatitis may have no pain although the majority of people do experience pain. In addition, there may be unexplained weight loss and malnutrition. This can occur even when eating a full diet because of the malabsorption of nutrients from food that happens with chronic pancreatitis.
Foul smelling yellow colored diarrhea may also be present as there is malabsorption of nutrients.
In very severe cases with infection or bleeding, a person may become dehydrated and have low blood pressure and also shows following symptoms;
A) Weakness or feeling tired (fatigue).
B) Feeling lightheaded or faint
If the blood pressure becomes extremely low, the organs of the body do not get enough blood to carry out their normal functions. This very dangerous condition is called circulatory shock or is referred to simply as shock.
Diagnostic imaging tests may include the following:
X-raycan be done in order tolook for complications of pancreatitis as well as for other causes of discomfort.
A CT scan is like an x-ray film, only much more detailed. A CT scan shows the pancreas and possible complications of pancreatitis in better detail than an x-ray film. A CT scan highlights inflammation or destruction of the pancreas.
Ultrasound is a very good imaging test to examine the gallbladder and the ducts connecting the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas with the small intestine.
Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is an imaging test that uses an endoscope (a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera on the end) to view the pancreas and surrounding structures. ERCP is usually used only in cases of chronic pancreatitis or in the presence of gallstones.
Mostly, symptomatic treatment is given first in case of acute pancreatitis to relieve pain. Most people who are having an attack of acute pancreatitis are admitted to the hospital.
Those people who have difficulty in breathing are given oxygen.
Medications for pain, nausea and vomiting are prescribed if necessary..
Antibiotics are given if the health care provider suspects an infection may be present.
No food or liquid should be taken by mouth for a few days. This is called bowel rest. By refraining from food or liquid intake, the intestinal tract and pancreas are given a chance to start healing.
If the pancreatitis is caused by gallstones, an operation to have the gallbladder and gallstones removed (cholecystectomy) is likely to be done.
In chronic pancreatitis, treatment focuses on relieving pain and avoiding further aggravation to the pancreas. Another focus is to maximize a person’s ability to eat and digest food.
Patient should stop the consumption of alcohol completely.
Liquids should be taken in more quantities in regular diet. It should be carefully taken care to consume more of soups, fresh fruit juices and lesser quantity of fatty and junk foods.
Mild pain should not be ignored and must be taken care of to prevent its worsening. Proper medications should be taken at time when required.
For most people, self-care alone is not enough to treat pancreatitis. People may be able to make themselves more comfortable during an attack, but they will most likely continue to have attacks until treatment is received for the underlying cause of the symptoms.