The pancreas is located in the abdomen behind the stomach. It is an essential organ that functions to convert food into fuel used by the cells by producing fluids that contain powerful enzymes and deliver them to the small intestines. These enzymes help in digesting food and regulating the level of blood sugar. They are being produced in the pancreatic cells which pass through tiny ducts that join together to create the primary pancreatic duct. The enzymes go to the duodenum where it digests food. The pancreas is also home to "islets of Langerhans", a group of special cells that produce insulin and glucagon, which are hormones that the body needs to control the level of sugar in the blood. The bile made by the gall bladder and liver are collected in the bile duct which is connected to the pancreatic duct where it eventually passes to the duodenum and helps in digesting food.
Pancreatitis refers to inflammation of the pancreas. There are two types, namely:
Acute pancreatitis – this condition happens when the inflammation and swelling develop rapidly and go away after a few days without leaving any permanent damage. However, it could be serious sometimes and turn severe when not diagnosed and needed treatment is not administered properly.
Chronic pancreatitis – this condition occurs when the inflammation and swelling of pancreas become persistent although they tend to have less intensity as compared to acute pancreatitis. However, since the inflammation and swelling are persistent, it can last for a longer period and cause damage and scarring to the pancreas.
Causes of Acute Inflammation Of The Pancreas
There are several known causes of acute inflammation of the pancreas although scientific empirical data shows that up to 15% of persons afflicted with this disease have unknown causes or causes. It occurs when the pancreas activates the digestive enzymes inside it and irritate the cells, thus initiating the inflammation process. Damage to the pancreas such as scar tissue can happen as a consequence of several repeated occurrences of acute pancreatitis. This weakens the pancreas' vital functions and can result in chronic pancreatitis. These conditions can then lead to more digestion problems. and even diabetes.
Known causes of acute inflammation of the pancreas include the following.
- Autoimmune diseases
- Abdominal surgery
- Abdominal injury
- Drinking lots of alcohol
- Metabolic disorders
- Certain medications
- Hypercalcemia or high levels of calcium in the blood caused by hyperparathyroidism.
- Hypertriglyceridemia or high levels of triglycerides in the blood.
- Cancer of the pancreas
In the case of chronic pancreatitis, causes are unknown in about 20% to 30% of confirmed diagnoses. Patients are usually male between the ages of 30 and 40. Known chronic pancreatitis causes include:
- Family history of pancreas disorders
- Long Term alcohol use
- Cystic fibrosis
- High triglycerides
Diagnosis and Treatment
Acute inflammation of the pancreas is established and confirmed by your doctor through physical examination, by the patient's medical history and a blood test for digestive enzymes of the pancreas such as amylase or lipase. A level three times the normal reading of these enzymes in the blood will indicate acute pancreatitis.
The signs and symptoms manifested by acute pancreatitis include the following:
- Tenderness when touching the abdomen
- Abdominal pain radiating to the back.
- Upper abdominal pain.
- Abdominal pain becoming worse after eating.
- Diarrhea and weight loss
- Rapid pulse.
Treatment of acute pancreatitis can be accomplished through several avenues, one of which is the intake of clear fluids especially within the first 24 hours after the symptoms were observed. Intravenous administration of fluids can greatly help in preventing dehydration since there will be a whole lot of inflammation and swelling. Increased fluid at the right time ensures that the affected organs and other body parts are supplied with adequate blood flow and thus help improve the healing process. Those were unfortunate to have severe conditions, such patients may need to be confined in the ICU due to extensive damage in other vital organs in the body such as the kidneys, lungs and even the heart. In some worse cases, irreparably damaged parts of the pancreas might need to be surgically removed.
Eating bland foods until the patient feels better is recommended usually after 48 hours. This is important since the pancreas has been injured and needs rest to help it recover. However, beyond this period, the pancreas then needs lots of calories to encourage tissue healing. If the patient is unable to do this on his or her own, a feeding tube passed through the nose can be inserted, going directly to the intestines and providing the essential nutritional needs.
Acute pancreatitis patients can experience pain and can have nausea. The pain associated with this condition can be effectively controlled through intravenous medications. Both pain and nausea can diminish as the swelling and inflammation subside.
Acute pancreatitis can be caused by many underlying or external issues and they should be evaluated as needed and appropriate therapy should be implemented as soon as possible. Some examples include gallstones, high calcium, and high triglyceride level and medications.
How Much Fluid Do You Need?
If you observe the symptoms associated with acute pancreatitis as happening to you and suspect that you have it, you should refrain from eating or drinking anything, especially alcoholic beverages, until you can visit your doctor and tell her or him what you are experiencing. You should abstain from any type of food or drink since any of them can trigger further enzyme production and release the same from the pancreas to the blood. Food and drink consumption will only make your pain worse and more unbearable. If you are admitted to the hospital, you might be given intravenous fluids and pain medications. You will not be given food or drink until the symptoms associated with acute pancreatitis have subsided and you feel better. Remember that even with the best hospital possible care, the healing of the pancreas cannot be sped up and in case the inflammation and swelling take a long time to improve, you cannot eat until they subside. If these episodes are prolonged and you cannot eat for more than a week, your doctor may order intravenous feeding to support the healing process.
Risks of Having Acute Inflammation Of The Pancreas
Complications resulting from acute inflammation of the pancreas may include local or systemic problems usually manifested and observed in acute, severe pancreatitis. Such problems may include adult respiratory distress syndrome and pulmonary edema. Based on research data, acute pancreatitis is quite common among middle-aged and elderly people although statistics reveal that it can also affect people belonging to any age group. Those men who have alcohol dependencies are more likely to develop acute pancreatitis while women are most at risk due to gallstones. Previous data shows that about 4 out of 5 sufferers of acute pancreatitis improve quickly and didn't present any serious complications later. However, the same data revealed that 1 in 5 cases turned severe and resulted in life-threatening stages like multiple organ failure.
Other risk factors associated with acute pancreatitis are:
- Cigarette smoking – compared to the non-smoking population, those who smoke are three times more prone to suffer from chronic pancreatitis. However, simply quitting the habit cuts your risk in half.
- Heavy consumption of alcohol – empirical data shows that excessive drinking (about four to five a day) can result in an elevated risk of developing pancreatitis.
- History of pancreatitis in the family – genes are now being considered as a risk factor in chronic pancreatitis. Your odds of developing this condition is increased and more so if you suffer from other risk factors.
- Certain genetic disorders such as cystic fibrosis,
- High levels of fat in the blood,
- Taking certain prescription medicines
Some severe cases developed complications and led to fatalities. Those who managed to survive severe acute pancreatitis may take many years or even months before improving enough to be allowed to go home.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Acute pancreatitis can initiate its attack very quickly and if it is severe enough, you wouldn't know what hit you until it becomes so severe. You would need medical attention as soon as possible. If you experience the following symptoms, kindly don't wait a second more and immediately submit yourself to an examination by a healthcare professional.
- Severe pain that you are unable to sit still and could not be relieved by over the counter medications
- Nausea or persistent vomiting that prevents you from taking medication or to eat and drink
- Difficulty in breathing
- Unexplained pain, especially accompanied by chills or fever, fatigue, feeling faint, and weakness.
- Pain caused by other medical conditions, including pregnancy.
You might have to be brought to an emergency room if your symptoms become worse, as would be advised by your examining health care professional.