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Pancreatitis is a fairly uncommon condition that involves the inflammation of the pancreas. It’s estimated that pancreatitis only affects 5 to 35 people per 100,000 worldwide; however, these numbers are rising due to obesity, which is a contributing factor to gallstones. Pancreatitis is most often caused by gallstones or heavy alcohol usage and can be either acute or chronic. Cases of pancreatitis require formal treatment, especially as the condition could be life-threatening if not treated. Read on to learn more about the different types of pancreatitis, the causes of the condition, and when you should seek medical attention for pancreatitis treatment.
The pancreas is located in the upper abdomen and connects to the duodenum (the top part of the small intestine). It has two main functions. First, the pancreas makes digestive enzymes to send to the small intestine through the pancreatic ducts. This helps break down protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Secondly, the pancreas releases hormones into the blood, namely insulin and glucagon, to regulate sugar levels in the blood.
Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed and swells. This occurs when the digestive enzymes in the pancreas are released and activated prematurely in the pancreatic tissue. The enzymes will then damage and inflame the tissue. An inflamed pancreas can lead to the release of toxins and inflammatory markers, which can lead to damage to your other organs. A patient who suspects they have pancreatitis should consult their GI doctor as soon as possible.
There are two types of pancreatitis, and it can be either acute or chronic.
Acute pancreatitis has a sudden onset and is a short-term condition. It usually requires a hospital stay to both diagnose and treat it. Most patients with acute pancreatitis do respond to treatment and get better within a few days.
Chronic pancreatitis is a long-term condition where the pancreas gets repeatedly inflamed and damaged over time. These cases require treatment such as medications or surgery to manage it.
The symptoms of pancreatitis may depend on whether it is acute or chronic, but some of the symptoms are shared. The most common symptom of pancreatitis is upper abdominal pain. Signs and symptoms of acute pancreatitis include:
Common symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include:
If your onset of symptoms is sudden or you have abdominal pain that persists, you should consult your gastroenterologist for diagnosis and pancreatitis treatment.
The two main causes of pancreatitis are gallstones (hard, stone-like pieces that form in the gallbladder from high cholesterol or high bilirubin) and heavy alcohol usage. There are other less common causes of pancreatitis, however. These include:
Certain risk factors can also predispose you to pancreatitis. These include:
While you can’t control some of these risk factors, you can reduce your risk of developing pancreatitis by limiting alcohol intake, quitting smoking, and adhering to a low-fat diet.
For pancreatitis treatment, you’ll need a diagnosis. You should seek pancreatitis treatment if you have persistent abdominal pain or have a sudden onset of what may feel like acute pancreatitis. For acute pancreatitis, your doctor will likely order blood tests to measure the levels of digestive enzymes in the pancreas. Also, you may get a CT (computed tomography) scan or ultrasound to look for abnormalities in the pancreas, gallbladder, and bile ducts.
Diagnosing chronic pancreatitis requires more testing and is more involved. Diagnostic tests for chronic pancreatitis include:
Pancreatitis treatment also depends on whether the condition is acute or chronic. According to the National Institutes of Health, pancreatitis complications can lead to:
An acute case of pancreatitis will likely require a short hospital stay for monitoring and care. If your pancreas isn’t functioning properly, you may be given supplemental pancreatic enzymes and insulin. Pain medication is often given to help keep the patient comfortable during their hospital stay. In some cases, your physician may perform an endoscopic or surgical procedure to remove a damaged part of the pancreas, gallstones, or blockage.
In more severe and chronic cases, sometimes surgery is advised. Modern medicine allows surgeons to use laparoscopic procedures, which are much less invasive than typical surgery. During laparoscopic surgery, a small incision is made and a laparoscope (instrument with light and a tiny camera) helps guide the procedure. Gallbladder surgery or pancreatic procedures may be necessary, depending on the inflammation.
ERCP can also be used to remove bile duct obstructions.
Treatment for alcohol dependence or alcohol use disorder (AUD) may also be used in conjunction with pancreatitis treatment if the cause of the pancreatitis was prolonged, heavy drinking.
If you have abdominal pain that persists coupled with symptoms of pancreatitis, you may need pancreatitis treatment. To schedule a consultation with an experienced gastroenterologist, you can contact any of Allied Digestive Health’s care centers here. We offer compassionate and comprehensive care for all of your gastrointestinal needs.
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