WHAT IS IT?
Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. The condition can come on suddenly and last for days (acute pancreatitis), or it can develop gradually and last for months to years (chronic pancreatitis).
During normal digestion, inactivated pancreatic enzymes move through ducts in your pancreas and travel to the small intestine, where they become activated and aid digestion. In pancreatitis, the enzymes become activated while still in the pancreas. The cells of your pancreas become irritated, causing inflammation, and the signs and symptoms associated with pancreatitis. Many conditions can lead to pancreatitis, including alcohol overuse, gallstones, and viral illnesses.
Signs and symptoms of pancreatitis vary and depend on which type you experience. Acute pancreatitis generally causes:
- Upper abdominal pain
- Abdominal pain that radiates to your back
- Abdominal pain that feels worse after eating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Tenderness when touching the abdomen
Signs and symptoms of chronic pancreatitis generally include:
- Upper abdominal pain
- Losing weight without trying
- Oily, smelly stools
Treatment for pancreatitis usually requires hospitalization. Initial treatment typically focuses on controlling the inflammation and making you comfortable. This may include:
- Fasting. You’ll stop eating for a couple of days in order to give your pancreas a chance to recover.
- Pain medications. Pancreatitis can cause severe pain. You’ll receive medications to help control the pain.
- Intravenous (IV) fluids. To prevent dehydration, fluids are administered through a vein in your arm.
Once your pancreatitis is under control, the next step is to treat the underlying cause of your pancreatitis. Examples include:
- Removal of bile duct obstructions. Pancreatitis caused by a narrowed or blocked bile duct may require procedures to open or widen the duct.
- Gallbladder surgery. If gallstones caused your condition, you may need surgery to remove your gallbladder.
- Pancreas surgery. Surgery may be necessary to drain fluid from your pancreas or to remove diseased tissue.
- Alcohol treatment. If excessive alcohol use is the cause, your doctor may recommend treatment for alcohol addiction.
Chronic pancreatitis may require additional treatments, including:
- Pain management. You may need medications to control chronic pain. Severe pain may be relieved with surgery to block the nerves that send pain signals from the pancreas to block the nerves that send pain signals from the pancreas to the brain.
- Digestive enzymes. Pancreatic enzyme supplements help your body break down and process the nutrients in the foods you eat.
- Dietary changes. A dietitian can teach you what foods are the easiest to digest.
Steps you can take at home include:
- Stop drinking alcohol. If you can’t stop on your own, ask for help.
- Stop smoking. If you smoke, quit.
- Eat a low-fat diet. A diet that limits fat and emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein is best.
- Drink more fluids. Pancreatitis can cause dehydration, so drink plenty of fluids throughout the day.
Excerpt From: The Mayo Clinic. “Mayo Clinic A to Z Health Guide”.