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There are two types of pancreatitis, acute and chronic. I’ll be explaining both in this article.
What is Acute Pancreatitis?
Acute pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas suddenly becomes inflamed and then gets better after a few hours or days.
Some patients have more than one attack but recover fully after each one. Acute pancreatitis can be summed up in short below:
- Is a sudden inflammation of the pancreas
- Lasts for a short time
- Lets the pancreas return to normal afterward
- In severe cases, the pancreas may be damaged beyond recovery
How is Acute Pancreatitis Diagnosed?
Diagnosis is based on a mixture of severe abdominal pain lasting minutes to hours, which can also be felt going through to the back, often accompanied by nausea and vomiting, and a positive blood test for one of the enzymes produced by the pancreas called amylase or lipase.
Sometimes, the diagnosis of acute pancreatitis is not clear at the beginning and is sometimes only diagnosed after a CT scan has been done.
For more information on the diagnosis and treatment of pancreatitis, click here.
What are the Causes of Acute Pancreatitis?
Gallstones and drinking too much alcohol are the two most common causes and together account for over 70% of acute pancreatitis attacks. The remaining attacks of pancreatitis can be attributed to rare causes, including:
- Following trauma eg a car accident
- As a side effect of some medicines eg azathioprine and steroids
- As part of an autoimmune disease (when the body’s immune system attacks itself)
- If the pancreas gets blocked from a pancreas cancer
- Some uncommon viral infections
Symptoms of Acute Pancreatitis
Symptoms of acute pancreatitis come on suddenly and can vary in severity from mild to life-threatening. Mild cases typically resolve over a week or so. Most symptoms are:
- Stomach (abdominal) pain, just below the ribs, is the usual main symptom.
- Being sick (vomiting), a high temperature (fever) and generally feeling very unwell are common.
- Your abdomen may become swollen.
- If pancreatitis becomes severe and other organs become involved (for example, your heart, lungs, or kidneys) then various other symptoms may develop. You may become lacking in fluid in the body (dehydrated) and have low blood pressure.
Treatment of Acute Pancreatitis
The treatment depends on how bad your attack of acute pancreatitis is. However, in most cases pancreatitis settles over a few days.
Treatment will help relieve pain, improve how well your pancreas works, and manage complications. It could include:
- A low-fat diet.
- Medicine to relieve pain.
- Insulin to help with high blood sugar levels.
- Enzyme tablets (pills that help you digest food).
- Vitamins if your body doesn’t absorb nutrients well.
- A procedure to remove a blocked gallstone if this is found to be the cause.
- Antibiotics if the pancreas or surrounding tissue becomes infected.
- Surgery is needed in some cases to remove infected or damaged tissue.
What is Chronic Pancreatitis and How is it Caused?
Chronic pancreatitis lasts a long time, usually up to a few years. Chronic pancreatitis begins as acute pancreatitis. If the pancreas becomes damaged during the attack of acute pancreatitis, it cannot return to its normal state.
The damage to the gland continues, worsening over time. Chronic pancreatitis occurs when digestive enzymes attack and destroy the pancreas and nearby tissues, causing scarring and pain.
The usual cause of chronic pancreatitis is many years of alcohol abuse, but the chronic form may also be triggered by only one acute attack, especially if the pancreatic ducts are damaged.
- Is a long-lasting inflammation that comes and goes over time
- Causes permanent damage to the pancreas
- Often causes scarring of pancreatic tissue
- May cause the pancreas to stop making enzymes and insulin in severe cases
Chronic pancreatitis Symptoms
The primary ongoing symptoms of chronic pancreatitis are pain localized to the upper abdomen that often radiates to the back.
Episodes of pain last from hours to days, and may eventually become continuous.
Eating may worsen the pain. People with chronic disease often lose weight, even when their appetite and eating habits are normal.
The weight loss occurs because the body does not secrete enough pancreatic enzymes to break down food, so nutrients are not absorbed normally.
Treatment for Chronic Pancreatitis
Relieving pain is the first step in treating chronic pancreatitis. The next step is to plan a diet that is high in carbohydrates and low in fat.
This will result in better nutrition and weight gain. Sometimes insulin or other drugs are needed to control blood glucose. In some cases, surgery is needed to relieve pain.
Pancreatitis Frequently Asked Questions
What Does the Pancreas Do?
The pancreas is part of the digestive system. It secretes enzymes that help the body break down foods, and it also releases hormones such as insulin so the body can convert food into energy.
What is the Main Sign of Pancreatitis?
The main sign of pancreatitis is a pain in the upper mid-abdomen. This pain may range from mild to severe, it may have a sudden onset or it may develop slowly, and the pain may spread across the upper abdomen and into the back.
Will I Be Able to Do Normal Activities?
You may need an array of maintenance medicines, but if pain and other symptoms are properly managed, you should be able to live a normal life.
What Home Remedies can Treat Pancreatitis?
For mild pancreatitis, dietary and lifestyle changes may help relieve some symptoms.
- Avoid alcohol
- Consume a liquid diet – broth, soups, gelatin
- Don’t smoke
- Pancreatitis usually requires medical treatment, as complications can be serious and life-threatening.
DISCLAIMER: PLEASE READ CAREFULLY
The information on this website is to provide general guidance. In no way does any of the information provided reflect definitive medical advice and self-diagnoses should not be made based on information obtained online. It is important to consult a Gastroenterologist or medical doctor regarding ANY and ALL symptoms or signs including, but not limited to: abdominal pain, haemorrhoids or anal / rectal bleeding as it may a sign of a serious illness or condition. A thorough consultation and examination should ALWAYS be performed for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Be sure to call a physician or call our office today and schedule a consultation.