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Pancreatitis: 19 Common Symptoms, 16 Causes, 7 Treatments & 5 Tests

What is pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is when the pancreas develop swelling due to the destruction of the pancreatic tissue by its own enzymes.

Pancreatitis is when the pancreas develops swelling due to the destruction of the pancreatic tissue. 

Pancreatitis is a condition in which the pancreas develops swelling due to the destruction of the pancreatic tissue by its own enzymes. Digestive enzymes travel from the pancreas to the small intestine through the pancreatic duct. Usually, they are not activated until they reach the small intestine, but if the pancreatic duct is blocked, the enzymes become trapped and get accumulated in the pancreas. Eventually, these enzymes become activated while still in the pancreas and begin irritating the tissue of the pancreas, causing inflammation, bleeding, and damage to the pancreas. There are two types of pancreatitis that are as follows:

  • Acute pancreatitis: It is a sudden inflammation of the pancreas that results in extreme abdominal pain, and it usually reduces on its own within one week. 
  • Chronic pancreatitis: It is a long-term condition that impairs the functioning of the pancreas. It affects the body’s ability to digest food and other functions.

What are the common symptoms of pancreatitis?

The most common symptom of pancreatitis is severe upper stomach pain that may radiate to the back or chest and may feel worse after eating or drinking alcohol.

Typical signs and symptoms of acute pancreatitis include:

  1. Pain in the stomach (belly)
  2. Nausea
  3. Vomiting
  4. Fever
  5. Dehydration
  6. Rapid heartbeat
  7. Abdominal tenderness
  8. Skin discoloration around the navel (belly button)

Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include:

  1. Unintentional weight loss
  2. Bloating
  3. Diarrhea
  4. Jaundice
  5. Decreased ability to produce insulin
  6. Indigestion
  7. Oily or smelly stools
  8. Fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity
  9. Dropping blood pressure
  10. Hypoxia and lung failure (breathing problems)
  11. Kidney failure

What are the common causes of pancreatitis?

The most common cause of acute pancreatitis is the presence of stones in the gallbladder, which can block the enzymes flowing from the pancreatic duct to the small intestine. Other causes of acute pancreatitis include:

  1. Family history of pancreatitis
  2. Gallbladder stones
  3. Recurrent exposure to chemicals
  4. High-fat levels in the blood or a high-fat diet
  5. Excessive alcohol consumption
  6. Severe injury or recent abdominal procedure
  7. Hereditary diseases
  8. Severe infections such as mumps or lupus
  9. Congenital (by birth) abnormality of the pancreas or intestine
  10. Excessive exposure to smoking
  11. Cancer of the pancreas
  12. A venomous sting from a scorpion
  13. Side effects of medications
  14. High levels of calcium in the blood
  15. Cystic fibrosis (a hereditary disease characterized by the buildup of abnormally thick, sticky mucus in the lungs and other organs)
  16. Drug allergies such as an allergy to penicillin or codeine

What are the common tests to diagnose pancreatitis?

Common tests to diagnose pancreatitis include:

  1. Various blood tests: Blood tests may be ordered by the doctor to know the levels of digestive enzymes in the blood such as amylase and lipase. The doctor may also check for blood sugar levels, triglycerides, lipids, and fats in the blood. Blood tests also help in identifying signs of an infection or inflammation of the bile ducts, pancreas, gallbladder, or liver and pancreatic cancer.
  2. Stool tests: Stool samples may determine fat malabsorption.
  3. Imaging tests: Ultrasound; computed tomography (CT) scans of the pancreas, gallbladder, and bile ducts; and magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) create pictures of the organs and soft tissues to determine abnormalities in the pancreas.
  4. Endoscopic ultrasound: The doctor may insert a thin, flexible tube down the throat, through your stomach, and into your small intestine. The doctor then turns on an ultrasound attachment to create pictures of your pancreas and bile ducts. 
  5. Pancreatic function test (PFT): The doctor may use this test to measure how the pancreas responds to secretin, a hormone produced by the small intestine. 

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What are the treatment options for pancreatitis?

The common treatment for pancreatitis includes:

  1. A hospital stay to treat dehydration with intravenous (IV) fluids or with oral rehydration therapy
  2. Pain medicine and antibiotics by mouth or through an IV if an infection is detected in the pancreas
  3. A low-fat diet or nutrition by a feeding tube or IV if the patient is unable to eat
  4. Rest and treatment for mild pancreatitis
  5. Enzyme pills and vitamins to help with digestion and treat malabsorption
  6. Cholecystectomy (surgery to remove the gallbladder)
  7. Draining fluid from the abdomen or removing the damaged tissue from the pancreas

Endoscopic cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): Doctors use ERCP to treat both acute and chronic pancreatitis. ERCP combines upper gastrointestinal endoscopy and X-rays to treat narrowing or blockage of bile or pancreatic duct. They are also used to remove gallstones blocking the bile or pancreatic ducts.

Surgeons may also perform surgery to remove the whole pancreas and may transplant islets from the pancreas into the liver. The islets will begin to produce hormones and release them into your bloodstream.


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