The pancreas is a long gland organ that sits behind the stomach in the upper abdomen and releases digestive enzymes and hormones—namely, insulin—into the body. Thus, it plays a critical role in digestion and blood sugar regulation. Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed.
What Causes Pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis is caused by digestive enzymes that have become activated prematurely, while they are still inside the pancreas, which irritates pancreatic cells and leads to inflammation. Pancreatic inflammation is often started by gallstones or heavy alcohol use, and less often by medications, environmental toxins, hereditary conditions, surgical procedures, and other contributing factors. Mild cases of pancreatitis may go away without treatment, but severe cases could be life-threatening.
Contact a gastroenterologist right away if you are experiencing chronic or severe abdominal pain, as it may be indicative of pancreatitis or another medical issue.
Pancreatitis may cause the formation of scar tissue, which could be detrimental to your digestive health and may even induce diabetes.
Conditions commonly associated with pancreatitis include:
- Heavy alcohol use
- Abdominal trauma (injury, surgery)
- Certain medications
- A family history of pancreatitis
- Cystic fibrosis
- High levels of calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia; this may be associated with a hyperactive parathyroid gland)
- High triglyceride levels in the blood (hypertriglyceridemia)
- Pancreatic cancer
What Are the Symptoms of Pancreatitis?
There are two types of pancreatitis: acute pancreatitis, meaning the inflammation is sudden and will likely heal over time with treatment; and chronic pancreatitis, in which the inflammation does not improve and instead gets worse over time. Signs and symptoms of acute pancreatitis differ from those of chronic pancreatitis.
Symptoms of acute pancreatitis include:
- Pain in the upper abdomen that radiates to your back
- Abdominal pain worsens after eating, especially foods high in fat
- Abdomen is tender to the touch
- Increased heart rate
If repeated instances of acute pancreatitis occur, the associated damage could result in chronic pancreatitis.
Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis are:
- Pain in the upper abdomen
- Oily, foul-smelling stools
- Unintended weight loss
There are several methods of treatment used to remedy pancreatitis. A gastroenterologist will advise one of the following based on the type and severity of your individual case:
- Pain medication and antibiotics
- Low-fat diet
- If hospitalized, fasting until the inflammation subsides
- Gallbladder removal surgery (cholestystectomy)
How Common Is Pancreatitis?
The reported annual incidence of acute pancreatitis in the United States ranges from about 5 to 35 per 100,000 people. These incidences are increasing globally due to an uptick in obesity and gallstones. Chronic pancreatitis occurs in about 50 of every 100,000 people, most often in patients between the ages of 30 and 40. Pancreatitis is more common in men than it is in women.
If you think you may be suffering from an undiagnosed case of pancreatitis, contact us today. Gastroenterology Associates specializes in helping restore you and your family to optimal digestive health. We are conveniently located adjacent to Long Island Center for Digestive Health (LICDH), a New York State-licensed non-hospital outpatient facility dedicated to providing high-quality endoscopic and colonoscopic services in a comfortable, welcoming environment.