Learning To Manage Pancreatitis

Severe pain in the upper abdomen? Pancreatitis is caused by inflammation in the pancreas, an organ that aids the body in regulating and processing blood sugar or glucose. The pancreas also works to produce enzymes that help digest food. Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic. In some cases, the condition can occur and be resolved rapidly, whereas other individuals may experience symptoms for extended periods. Understanding the signs of pancreatitis as well as when to seek help, is critical for managing the condition.

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What causes pancreatitis?

Although acute and chronic pancreatitis can present differently, both versions have similar causes. Excessive alcohol consumption, a history of gallstones, and even certain medications can cause the condition to develop. Having previously undergone abdominal surgery, having cystic fibrosis (CF), a past abdominal injury, pancreatic cancer, and infections can also lead to pancreatitis. Additionally, people with high calcium or triglyceride levels in the blood can also be at risk. Individuals with a family history of pancreatitis, as well as people who smoke cigarettes or drink more than 2 alcoholic drinks per day, have heightened chances of developing the condition.

Acute pancreatitis symptoms

Regardless of the type of pancreatitis, the main symptom is pain in the upper abdomen that can then spread to the back. In the acute form, the pain can last for several days and may be mild or severe. The pain is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, fever, a fast heartbeat, and possibly a swollen or tender abdomen. In most cases, acute pancreatitis requires an immediate trip to the doctor or a medical facility. Left untreated, the condition can lead to serious health complications or death.

Chronic pancreatitis symptoms

Along with many of the symptoms present in the acute form, chronic pancreatitis can also be identified by constant and severe pain that can worsen after eating. In some cases, people may notice that symptoms temporarily go away. However, such changes usually mean pancreatitis has worsened. Additional symptoms differentiating chronic pancreatitis from acute can include diarrhea, foul-smelling stool, and weight loss.

When to see a doctor

Regardless of whether a person has acute or chronic pancreatitis, the condition shouldn’t be ignored. Depending on the severity, a trip to the doctor or hospital may be warranted. If a person is experiencing shortness of breath, jaundice, a racing heartbeat, fever or chills, nausea, vomiting, or shortness of breath, seek medical care immediately.

Can a GI endoscopy help?

Often an endoscopic ultrasound may be recommended to determine the extent of the damage, as well as what’s causing pancreatitis. The diagnostic test uses a thin tube with an ultrasound attachment fed through the patient’s throat and into the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Pictures will be taken to check for causes such as blockages or infected tissue. If such a problem is discovered, patients may require surgery to correct the issue.

Prevention is best

Pancreatitis can be a painful and, at times, life-threatening condition if left untreated. In most cases, prevention is the best method. Maintaining a healthy weight, cutting out tobacco, minimizing alcohol, and exercising regularly are ideal ways to prevent developing gallstones which account for 40% of most acute pancreatitis cases. If a person suspects that upper abdomen pain might be related to pancreatitis, seeking medical attention is recommended.