by Kimberly Allen R.N.
Pancreatitis simply stated is an inflammation of the pancreas. It can be either acute or chronic. In the US there are over 80,00 cases of pancreatitis diagnosed every year. Though rare in children pancreatitis can develop at any age. pancreatitis affects both males and females, however, chronic pancreatitis is more commonly diagnosed in men than women.
The pancreas is responsible for producing 2 substance critical for digestion. the digestive juices, the enzymes, and bicarbonate. These juices travel to the intestines through small tubes called ducts. Once in the small intestine the enzymes break down the foods you eat and the bicarbonate neutralizes the stomach acids. The pancreas also produces the digestive hormones insulin and glucagon. Both of these hormones are responsible for controlling your blood sugar as well as provide energy. Pancreatitis develops when the enzymes that normally travel to the small intestine before activating to breakdown food instead they activate while still in the pancreas. The enzymes are highly caustic to the pancreas and cause severe damage to the inside of the pancreas. The enzymes and the damage they do to the pancreas causes the inflammation of the pancreas.
There are numerous things that can lead to the development of pancreatitis. The most common factor leading to pancreatitis is alcoholism. Other factors include gallstones and endoscopic surgery usually used to treat gallstones. Certain conditions like cystic fibrosis and a family history of pancreatitis as well as certain medications can also lelad to pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis whether acute or chronic can lead to serious complications. The damage done in the pancreas also damages the cells that produce insulin especially if the pancreatitis is chronic, leading to diabetes. In acute pancreatitis the chemicla changes that occur can affect the function of your lungs therefore decreasing the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream, which can lead to numerous other problems including shortness of breath. Acute pancreatitis also leaves your pancreas vulnerable to infection and infections of the pancreas are very serious requiring intensive treatment that can include surgery to remove the infected tissue. In both acute and chronic pancreatitis the pancreas is unable to produce sufficient enzymes to breakdown the food you eat and provide you with nutrients you need to survive. Which in turn leads to malnutrition, weight loss and diarrhea. Chronic long standing pancreatitis also significantly increases your risk of pancreatic cancer.
The symptoms of pancreatitis vary some depending on whether or not you have acute or chronic pancreatitis. In acute pancreatitis the first symptoms you will most likely notice is pain in the upper abdomen. The pain can develop gradually over time or be sudden and severe. The abdomen is usually swollen and tender and you will probably have severe nausea and vomiting as well as a fever. Most people with acute pancreatitis know they’re sick and look it too. Acute pancreatitis requires immediate medical attention. Many people that have chronic pancreatitis also have pain but not all. The pain may come and go getting worse when you eat or drink. Other symptoms you may notice are similar to those of acute pancreatitis though not as severe including nausea and vomiting and diarrhea as well as weight loss even if your eating habits haven’t changed.
Immediate treatment of pancreatitis requires hospitalization to stabilize the pancreas. Your Dr will start you on intravenous nutrition and you will need to fast for a few days. Fasting will allow the pancreas time to heal because it won’t need to produce digestive enzymes to breakdown food. Then after a few days if the inflammation has gone down you will be allowed to begin taking in clear liquids like broth and jello, then progress to bland foods that don’t require increased enzyme production. You will also most likely be given antibiotics as well as medications to control the pain. The length of time you need to stay in the hospital will depend on the severity of your condition and how rapidly you recover. Should you have repeated episodes of acute pancreatitis further treatment with supplemental enzymes that you can take with each meal to help your body breakdown te food you eat. the Dr will also recommend that you meet with a nutritionist to help you in making the correct dietary choices to prevent acute pancreatic attacks.
The best way to prevent pancreatitis is to avoid those things that can cause it including limiting or avoiding alcohol and drinking more water. Choose to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables and whole grains. Limit your fat intake by eating lean proteins. And last but not least exercise. Regular exercise is crucial to maintaining your health.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.