Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, an organ that produces hormones and aids digestion. The pancreas is the organ in the human that produces hormones to remove glucose from the bloodstream. The pancreas also produces enzymes that allow proper absorption of nutrients in the gastrointestinal tract. Inflammation of the pancreas can be acute, with a sudden, severe attack, or chronic, with low-level symptoms that can continue for years. A mild case of pancreatitis may not produce any symptoms and may disappear without treatment. However, in some cases, the inflammation can become serious and life threatening. Severe infection, malnutrition, kidney failure, diabetes and pancreatic cancer can result from ongoing pancreatitis. Knowing the symptoms and risk factors can help you to avoid severe pancreatitis events.
A number of risk factors are associated with the development of pancreatitis, such as a family history of problems, smoking, obesity and excessive alcohol consumption. Individuals with these risk factors may need to consult closely with their primary care physicians to monitor themselves for early symptoms of the disorder. However, pancreatitis can also develop due to a number of conditions. These include:
An acute bout of pancreatitis can produce significant symptoms. You may have pain in the upper abdomen. The pain may radiate around the body and into your back. The discomfort may begin suddenly or may be a vague feeling of being unwell. Your abdomen may be swollen and tender to the touch. Fever may accompany the discomfort. You may have nausea or vomiting. Some individuals will experience rapid heartbeat. Chronic cases tend to be less dramatic. There may be pain in the upper abdomen or no discomfort at all. Pain may worsen after eating. The individual may have diarrhea. Stools may appear greasy or smell bad. Nausea may prevent eating. Weight loss may occur. Shortness of breath can occur. Symptoms may accumulate and worsen over time.
Treatment of pancreatitis will depend on the severity of the problem. Acute cases often respond to treatment and rest. Some cases may require removal of the gallbladder, draining of fluid or surgery to excise damaged tissue in the pancreas. An endoscopic procedure may be necessary to open a blocked duct. Chronic cases of pancreatitis generally respond to vitamin therapies to correct malabsorption problems, treatment of resulting diabetes and surgery to relieve pressure or eliminate infection. Severe cases of pancreatitis may require removal of the pancreas and transplantation of islets in the pancreas to your liver, in order to continue hormone production normally done by the pancreas. Changes in diet and lifestyle, such as a low-fat diet, smoking cessation and avoidance of alcohol, can help to reduce pancreatic inflammation.
If you are at risk for pancreatitis or believe you are experiencing the symptoms of this condition, talk to your physician about blood tests or imaging techniques to diagnose the problem. Prompt treatment can help to prevent more serious nutritional and metabolic issues related to the disorder.
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