The pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach, that is responsible for the production of digestive enzymes and the hormones insulin and glucagon, which help to maintain normal sugar levels in the blood and intestinal function respectively. Inflammation of the pancreas leads to a condition called pancreatitis. Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic.
Acute pancreatitis is usually characterized by sudden and severe abdominal pain. Other symptoms include fever, vomiting, nausea, sweating, swelling in the abdominal region, feeling of fullness due to gas, and sometimes jaundice.
Acute pancreatitis is most often caused by excessive intake of alcohol, gallstones, genetic factors, autoimmune problems, blockage of the pancreatic duct or common bile duct, other conditions such as cystic fibrosis and certain medications such as oestrogens and corticosteroids. Acute pancreatitis affects men more often than women.
Acute pancreatitis is diagnosed by various laboratory tests that measure the levels of pancreatic enzyme (amylase/lipase), and imaging techniques, such as CT scan, MRI and ultrasound, which indicate inflammation of the pancreas.
Treatment of acute pancreatitis is directed towards reducing the inflammation and treating the underlying cause of the condition. Patients usually require hospital admission, where you will be given pain medication and intravenous fluids, and will be closely monitored while they recover from their symptoms. Your doctor will stop food and fluid through the mouth to limit the activity of the pancreas. In severe cases, antibiotics may be administered, and rarely, surgery will be performed to remove the infected or damaged part of the pancreas to control sepsis.
After recovering from an attack of pancreatitis, the patient should avoid smoking, abstain from drinking alcohol and eating fatty foods.
Chronic pancreatitis is a condition where the inflammation of the pancreas does not heal or improve with time, and leads to permanent damage. The most common symptoms include abdominal pain, continuous weight loss (even with a normal diet), diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, pale or clay-coloured stools and fatty or oily stools.
The most common cause of chronic pancreatitis is alcohol abuse for many years and repeated occurrence of acute pancreatitis. Other causes may include genetic factors, autoimmune problems, blockage of the pancreatic duct or the common bile duct, other conditions like cystic fibrosis and certain medications such as estrogens, corticosteroids and diuretics. The condition is seen more often in men than in women.
Chronic pancreatitis is diagnosed by various laboratory tests that measure the levels of pancreatic enzyme (amylase/lipase) and imaging techniques such as CT scan, ultrasound, endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) and MRI with MRCP (magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography).
Treatment of chronic pancreatitis is directed towards reducing the inflammation and treating the underlying cause of the condition. You will be required to stay in the hospital where you will be given pain medication and intravenous fluids and you'll be closely monitored while you recover from your symptoms. Your doctor will stop food and fluid through the mouth to limit the activity of the pancreas. Pancreatic enzymes may be prescribed to digest food better and gain weight. Blood sugar (glucose) levels are controlled by taking insulin if needed. If a blockage is found, the obstruction is treated, and in severe cases, a part or the entire pancreas will be surgically removed.