Most people don’t understand what pancreatitis is and whether they need to worry about it. Of course, many people know that pancreatic cancer is deadly, but that may be where most information ends. Each year, acute pancreatitis causes around 275,000 hospital stays. In addition, chronic pancreatitis affects approximately 50 per 100,000 people.
What is the Pancreas?
The pancreas is a small gland that sits behind the stomach on the left side of the body. It is near the duodenum, the beginning of the small intestine. The pancreas makes and secretes enzymes that are used in digestion. It also produces and releases hormones that regulate the amount of sugar in the blood.
What is Pancreatitis?
When the pancreas becomes blocked, it becomes inflamed, and its enzymes start attacking the pancreas, causing terrible abdominal pain.
What are the Symptoms of Pancreatitis?
Symptoms will vary from one patient to another. However, the primary symptom of pancreatitis is severe belly pain that can spread to the back. Other symptoms can include fever, nausea, vomiting and a fast heartbeat. In addition, fluid buildup and swelling in the abdomen, lower blood pressure and jaundice may also occur.
What Causes Pancreatitis?
Acute pancreatitis is often caused by gallstones that block the common bile duct that moves bile created by the liver and gallbladder through the pancreas on the path to the small intestine. Chronic pancreatitis is typically caused by alcohol abuse.
Pancreatitis can also be caused by several other things, including certain medications, surgery in the belly area, infections, tumors, smoking and more.
How Can Pancreatitis be Treated?
Acute pancreatitis can be treated, and the pancreas will function normally afterward. However, medical treatment is necessary to determine what is blocking the pancreas and dissolve or remove the blockage. If treatment is not received immediately, acute pancreatitis can become quite serious and, in the worst cases, can be fatal. Pancreatitis generally requires a hospital stay for a few days.
Chronic pancreatitis requires lifestyle changes, such as abstaining from alcohol and smoking. In addition, enzymes and possibly insulin may be needed. Treatment may also include pain medication or surgery to remove part of the pancreas. Some long-term consequences of chronic pancreatitis include diabetes, chronic pain, blockages in the bile duct, diarrhea and weight loss. Chronic pancreatitis can also lead to pancreatic cancer.
Dr. Dmitri Alden, M.D., FACS is a highly qualified, experienced surgeon in New York who treats acute and chronic pancreatitis. Contact his office for a consultation, diagnosis and treatment.