Pancreas is a long gland located beneath your stomach in the upper portion. Any swelling or inflammation of the pancreas is known as pancreatitis and sometimes it can be life threatening. Pancreas is about 15 cm long and lies closely with the stomach. It secretes certain enzymes that are useful for breaking up the food particles you eat and helps digestion. It also makes important hormones like insulin that is responsible for controlling blood glucose. The hormones produced by the pancreas stay inside the endocrine cells called islets of Langerhans.
Whenever the blood sugar level is rising, it would release insulin and other hormones to control it. Thus they help in monitoring the blood glucose and store the extra glucose in the liver and muscle to use them at the times of need. The body gets regular supply of energy in the form of glucose which is needed for metabolism. In addition to insulin, pancreas also produces glucagon which helps increasing the blood sugar level whenever needed.
Types and Symptoms :
Pancreatitis occurs in two types namely acute and chronic :
Acute pancreatitis is short lived and develops suddenly. The effects of such inflammation can range from mild to very severe. For some people it causes mild discomfort but for others it can cause internal bleeding and infection. Acute form can cause severe abdominal pain that extends towards your back and the pain would become intense after eating. It would also cause nausea and vomiting for many people. Mild fever and increased heartbeat is also common in acute pancreatitis.
Chronic pancreatitis causes slow damage to the pancreas and often alcohol is the main culprit causing it. Chronic form would cause symptoms like pain in the abdomen and produce oily stools with foul smell. The affected person will lose weight gradually due to poor absorption of food. He may also develop diabetes since the insulin hormones are not produced in enough quantity.
Major causes of acute pancreatitis are alcohol abuse and gallstone formation. It can also be caused due to severe infections, intake of certain medications and metabolic disorders. For some cases actual cause is not known. In case of chronic pancreatitis heavy drinking is the major cause. Cystic fibrosis, gallstones, certain medications and high triglycerides can also cause chronic pancreatitis. Abdominal surgery can also cause pancreatic problems. Increased level of calcium in the blood can cause pancreatitis.
How Pancreas becomes inflamed?
Normally during the process of digestion, pancreas releases certain digestive enzymes facilitating digestion. But sometimes the digestive enzymes are not discharged from the pancreas and remain inside. This would irritate the organ deeply causing inflammation. When this process repeats many times it leads to chronic inflammation of the pancreas.
Acute pancreatitis must be treated immediately failing which it can cause complications like pseudocyst formation (accumulation of debris in the pancreas) and infections due to bacteria that feeds on the debris. In some people it can affect the normal lung functions causing breathing problems.
Since insulin is not produced in normal rate, blood sugar level would raise causing diabetes. In severe cases of acute pancreatitis it can affect the kidneys causing renal failure. A person with chronic pancreatitis can lose weight due to poor nutrition since essential nutrients are not absorbed into the blood. In rare cases it can cause pancreatic cancer.
Who are at risk?
Pancreatitis can develop on any person but heavy drinking and gallstone formation are the main risk factors that cause pancreatitis. A person born with cystic fibrosis is more prone to develop acute pancreatitis than others.
Your doctor will look for the above symptoms and order for blood profile, urine and stool analysis. He would also request for imaging tests like CT scan or MRI scan or endoscopy for checking the extent of inflammation in the pancreas.
Treatment depends on the intensity of complications caused due to pancreatitis. For mild to moderate cases the patient will be put on intravenous fluids and closely monitored for further development. If the pancreatic tissues die inside then surgery has to be done for removing such tissues. If the gallstone has blocked the pancreatic canal totally then surgery is done for removing gallstones. For people with chronic pancreatitis the doctor will keep the patient under observation and give treatment to relieve the symptoms of abdominal pain. He will be put on low fat diet or complete fasting for couple of days.
Inflammation of the pancreas is treated by looking for the underlying cause. As soon as the swelling reduces the patient can take bland foods and liquid diet. For some people with severe pain in the abdomen, feeding tube is inserted into the stomach. The patient will be given pain killers and put on IV fluids to keep them well hydrated. For people diagnosed with bile duct obstructions, ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangio pancreatography) is done for widening the bile duct canal and correcting it. If alcohol abuse is the root cause of pancreatitis your doctor would give suitable drugs to free you from alcohol dependence. Patients with chronic pancreatitis will be given supplementary enzymes to maintain body metabolism and process of digestion.
Home Remedies :
Once you are diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis you need to make small changes in your lifestyle. After you get out of the hospital you should stop smoking and drinking. Get help from your doctor to stop the habit of drinking. Drink plenty of fluids and clear liquids to avoid dehydration. Stick on to low fat diet as prescribed by your doctor.
You cannot do anything if pancreatitis is caused by reasons beyond your control. But you can stay away from alcohol to reduce the risk of developing acute pancreatitis.