What is the pancreas?
The pancreas is an organ that is located in your abdomen, behind your stomach. This organ has two functions –
- It produces and releases enzymes that help in digestion
- It produces and releases hormones that control and regulate glucose levels in the body
When food enters the small intestine, your pancreas receives a signal to release enzymes that help in digestion. Pancreatic enzymes help in the breakdown of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. These enzymes are released into a duct called the pancreatic duct, which in turn is connected to another duct called the bile duct, through which the enzymes get delivered to the small intestine.
What is pancreatitis?
What causes pancreatitis?
Causes of pancreatitis include
- Alcohol abuse
- Obstruction of the pancreatic duct due to cancer, gallstones or trauma
- Genetic conditions such as cystic fibrosis and hereditary pancreatitis
- Autoimmune conditions such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or autoimmune pancreatitis
- Injury to the pancreatic duct
- High blood calcium levels
- High cholesterol levels
- After certain medical procedures (endoscopic retrograde
- cholangiopancreatography, abdominal surgery)
- Medicines (Azathioprine, 6-mercaptopurine, ACE inhibitors used for treating high blood pressure, valproic acid, didanosine, and mesalamine)
- Genetic factors
- Infections, including viral, bacterial and parasitic infections
- Kidney diseases
- Poisoning (for example, scorpion bite, consumption of pesticides or insecticides – organophosphorus poisoning)
What are the risk factors for pancreatitis?
Risk factors include –
- Family history of gallstones or pancreatic diseases
What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?
Most common symptoms include –
- Moderate to severe sharp pain in the upper part of the abdomen that radiates to the back
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heart rate
- Pain on touching the abdomen
How is pancreatitis diagnosed?
Your doctor will first enquire about the history of your symptoms and potential causes that may have resulted in pancreatitis. As a part of the physical examination, your doctor may press your abdomen to understand the exact location of the pain. In addition, you might be asked to undergo the following tests –
- Blood tests that measure your digestive enzymes, blood sugar levels, etc.
- Stool test
- Ultrasound or CT scan
- Endoscopic ultrasound ( A thin and flexible tube with a small ultrasound probe is passed into your stomach through the throat to better visualise the pancreas, part of the liver, gallbladder, and bile duct)
What are the complications of pancreatitis?
If untreated, pancreatitis may lead to the following complications –
- Breathing problems (Acute respiratory distress syndrome)
- Kidney failure
- Digestive problems such as malnutrition, diarrhoea, weight loss etc.
- Pseudocyst (collection of debris and fluids in cyst-like pockets in the pancreas)
How is pancreatitis treated?
The initial phase of treatment is aimed at controlling the pain and inflammation. This includes –
- In-hospital monitoring and intravenous fluids
- Pain control through medications
Once the inflammation is under control the underlying cause of pancreatitis is evaluated and addressed. This includes –
- Endoscopic procedures to remove gallstones or any other kind of blockage
- Surgical removal of a part or the whole part of the pancreas
- Insulin injections to control blood sugar levels
How will surgical removal of the pancreas impact my life?
What is endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)?
Is pancreatitis curable?
How can I prevent pancreatitis?
You can prevent pancreatitis by –
- Eating a healthy diet
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Avoiding heavy alcohol consumption
- Avoiding smoking
What lifestyle modifications can help in treating pancreatitis?
Some measures include –
- Dietary modifications (low fat diet, six to
- eight small meals instead of three large meals)
- Avoiding alcohol
- Abstaining from smoking
- Adhering to the treatment and regularly following up with your doctor