Pancreatitis or inflamed pancreas is one of the primary reasons most people with stomach problems are admitted to the hospital. The pancreas is a large, flattened gland located behind the stomach in the upper part of the abdomen. It produces digestive enzymes and hormones(insulin) that regulate blood sugar in the body.
Pancreatitis can come and go quickly or last for a long time. Knowing early signs of pancreatitis can help with early diagnosis and timely treatment. Here’s all about its early warning signs, and treatment
What is pancreatitis?
The pancreas is a gland located behind the stomach and close to the small intestine. The pancreas has two main functions:
- You digest food more effectively by releasing digestive enzymes into your small intestine.
- It produces hormones like glucagon and insulin that aid in regulating how your body uses food for energy.
Pancreatitis is a condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed because of gallstones or heavy alcohol consumption.
Other rare causes of pancreatitis include:
- High triglyceride levels due to more intake of fats
- Abdominal injury
- Metabolic disorders like diabetes
- Genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis.
Early Warning Signs of Pancreatitis
Many people with acute or chronic pancreatitis may experience severe pain in the middle-left upper abdomen. People with chronic pancreatitis are usually asymptomatic, but they may show inflammation on imaging scans. Common sign of pancreatitis are:
For acute pancreatitis:
- Pain in the upper abdomen
- Back discomfort
- Tenderness in the abdomen when touched
- The heart beats quickly.
For chronic pancreatitis:
- Pain in the upper abdomen
- Pain in the abdomen (becomes worse after eating)
- Weight loss without any effort
- Steatorrhea-fatty stools with a foul odour
Steatorrhea is also a sign of malabsorption, which means your body is deprived of essential nutrients because your pancreas cannot secrete enough digestive enzymes to break down food.
Generally, the pain associated with pancreatitis last for a few minutes to several hours at a time. However, sometimes, discomfort from chronic pancreatitis could become long-lasting.
The pain may increase when you’re lying down or after you eat. Try leaning forward or sitting up to make yourself more comfortable.
Types of pancreatitis
- Acute Pancreatitis: There is a sudden onset of inflammation in this condition. It is one of the main reasons for hospitalizations in people with gastrointestinal issues. It is mostly caused by gallstones.
- Chronic pancreatitis: It occurs when inflammation of the pancreas comes back consistently or occurs over a long time. In this condition, scar tissue formation is formed due to long-term inflammation. In addition, chronic pancreatitis can cause permanent damage to the pancreas.
Let’s look at some common risk factors that can make you more prone to pancreatitis:
- Drinkers who consume four or more drinks a day are at a higher risk of pancreatitis.
- Cigarette smoking – Compared to non-smokers, smokers are three times more likely to develop chronic pancreatitis. It’s also good to know that quitting smoking can significantly reduce your risk.
- Diabetes – Pancreatitis is more likely if you have diabetes.
- Pancreatitis runs in the family – The role of chronic pancreatitis is becoming widely recognized now. You have a higher chance of developing the disease if you have a family member who has it, especially when combined with other risk factors.
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- Blood tests
- Ultrasound of the abdomen
- CT scan (Computerized Tomography)
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Ultrasound through the endoscope
- Stool examinations
A multidisciplinary team of general care physicians, gastroenterologists, surgeons, and endocrinologists are the doctors that treat pancreatitis.
Hospital treatments may include:
- Pain killer medications
- Intravenous (IV) fluids to avoid dehydration
- Pancreas removal surgery
- Gallbladder surgery for removing gallstones
If you have acute or persistent stomach pain, make an appointment with your doctor. Also, if your abdomen discomfort is so severe that you can’t sit still or find a comfortable posture, seek medical care right once.
As a patient, you have a big say in deciding what treatment is best for you. For example, some people choose intensive treatment, while others prefer less aggressive treatments with fewer adverse effects.