What is Pancreatitis?

The pancreas is an effector organ located behind the stomach essential to digestive and endocrine system functions. It aids in digestion by producing enzymes that break down food in the small intestines, and it regulates blood sugar levels by releasing hormones (e.g. insulin, glucagon, somatostatin) into the bloodstream. Pancreatitis occurs when this organ becomes inflamed and loses its ability to function properly. Pancreatitis is not only associated with incomplete digestion, but also with nausea, weight loss, and in some scenarios necrosis and organ failure.

What Causes Pancreatitis?

The two leading causes of pancreatitis are gallstones and a fatty liver (caused by long-term alcohol consumption). The build-up of gallstones in the bile and pancreatic ducts can inflict severe damage to the pancreas by blocking the movement of pancreatic enzymes into the small intestines, forcing the enzymes back to the pancreas. This can cause irritation and inflammation. Heavy alcohol usage is even more closely linked to the disease. About seven out of ten cases of pancreatitis are caused by alcohol abuse. A less common cause of pancreatitis is genetic mutations due to cystic fibrosis.

What are its Symptoms?

The symptoms of pancreatitis include nausea, vomiting, weight loss, diarrhea, upper abdominal pain, and a decreased ability to digest food. Other symptoms that are not immediately evident include low blood calcium levels, high blood glucose levels, and a reduction in blood volume in the body.

How can it be Treated?

Treating pancreatitis usually requires the patient to be admitted to a hospital. Here, doctors can help stabilize the patient's condition and actively respond to problems arising from inflammation. Several treatment courses can be taken depending on the gravity of patient's illness, ranging from pain medication and intravenous fluids to fasting. The patient's body will be readied for further treatment of underlying problems. These include gallbladder surgery, pancreas surgery, and treatment for alcohol independence. Afterwards, patients may be given pancreatic enzymes to assist in digestion.

Common Questions About Pancreatitis

What age group is most susceptible to the disease?

Statistically speaking, the disease is more common in men than women, and people between the ages of 30 and 40 are most commonly afflicted with the disease.

What is the difference between chronic and acute pancreatitis?

Acute pancreatitis occurs in short episodes and is often associated with extreme upper abdominal pain. Its is commonly caused by gallstones, Chronic pancreatitis is a long term degenerative disease in which the pancreas slowly becomes incapacitated. It is associated with malnutrition and weight loss.

What can I do to prevent pancreatitis?

Some people have a genetic predisposition towards pancreatitis which cannot be controlled. However, one can significantly reduce his/her chances of getting the disease by abstaining from alcohol and living a healthy lifestyle.

Can I live without my pancreas?

Nowadays, many people live normal lives without a pancreas. However, they must receive daily injections of insulin and enzymes to sustain normal body function.
Chronic Pancreatitis
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