Pancreatitis

What is pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is a long, flat gland that sits tucked behind the stomach in the upper abdomen. The pancreas produces enzymes that help the digestion of food and produces insulin that helps regulate the way your body handles blood sugar. Pancreatitis can cause acute or chronic symptoms. Either form is serious and can potentially lead to complications.

What causes pancreatitis?

The most common causes of pancreatitis include:
• Gallstones
• Alcoholism
Other causes include:
• Abdominal surgery
• Cystic fibrosis
• Hereditary disorders of the pancreas
• Some medications
• High levels of calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia)
• High levels of parathyroid hormone in the blood (hyperthyroidism)
• High triglyceride levels in the blood (hypertriglyceridemia)
• Infection
• Pancreatic cancer
• Ulcers

What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?

The symptoms of pancreatitis may vary depending on whether it is acute or chronic. Acute pancreatitis may present with a swollen and tender abdomen, nausea and vomiting, fever, or rapid pulse.  The abdominal pain may feel worse after eating, and it may radiate to your back. Chronic pancreatitis symptoms may include unexplained weight loss, diarrhea, oily stools, upper abdominal pain and indigestion.

How do you know if you have pancreatitis?

Your doctor will review your medical history and perform a physical exam. Your doctor may also order blood tests and stool tests. Other tests that may be ordered include abdominal ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scan, endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

How is pancreatitis treated?

Treatment for pancreatitis may require a few days stay in the hospital for intravenous (IV) fluids, antibiotics and pain medication. An important component of treatment is to allow the pancreas to rest.  This involves taking no food or liquids by mouth. In some severe cases, special nutritional methods may be used to give the body nutrients by bypassing the pancreas through the use of a feeding tube or through an IV. Depending on the cause of your pancreatitis, your doctor may also recommend treatments such as endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), pancreas surgery, gallbladder surgery, treatment for alcohol dependence, or supplemental pancreatic enzymes to improve digestion and changes in diet.