What Is Pancreatitis?

January 10, 2018

What Is Pancreatitis?

The pancreas is the central organ where the essential enzymes are produced for digestion and hormones are produced that help the body process sugar. The pancreas can malfunction, causing the digestive enzymes to activate while still in the pancreas instead of in the digestive tract. This can lead to inflammation and pancreatitis. In both acute and chronic patients, scar tissue may form, causing the pancreas to not perform optimally or even fail.

Acute pancreatitis is a sudden inflammation of the pancreas resulting in swelling, pain and poor digestion. Serious complications are possible, particularly if the pancreas becomes infected.

Chronic pancreatitis is marked by persistent inflammation of the pancreas, causing permanent damage to this vital organ. Chronic pancreatitis is incurable, and certain life-threatening complications can occur including liver failure, diabetes and pancreatic cancer.

 

Pancreatitis Symptoms

When you have pancreatitis, you may experience any of the following symptoms. For some, symptoms may be mild. But for others, symptoms may be debilitating.

Acute Pancreatitis Symptoms:

  • Pain in the upper abdominal area
  • Pain that radiates from the upper abdomen to the back or shoulders
  • Pain that worsens after eating
  • Abdomen is tender to the touch
  • Elevated temperature or fever
  • Rapid pulse
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Chronic Pancreatitis Symptoms:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen that persists, or may come and go
  • Weight loss, often dramatic, without trying
  • Stools that are oily and smelly

Pancreatitis Causes & Risk Factors

There are many possible causes for pancreatitis, many of which are linked to diet and overall wellness. However, there are times where pancreatitis is the result of a physical injury, surgery or other medical condition. Recognized risk factors include:

  • Alcoholism
  • Gallstones
  • ERCP, a surgical procedure for gallstones
  • Cigarette Smoking
  • High calcium levels in the blood
  • Hyperparathyroidism
  • High triglyceride levels
  • Infection
  • Injury to the abdomen
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Abdominal Surgery
  • Certain medications
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Genetics
  • High-fat diet, particularly for those with Type 2 diabetes.

Dangers of Pancreatitis

Left untreated, pancreatitis can cause serious complications and even death. Seeking emergency medical intervention is necessary when symptoms present.

  • Pseudocysts accumulate fluid and debris in pockets. If they rupture, they cause infection and internal bleeding.
  • Inflammation in the pancreas makes it vulnerable to bacteria and infection. Surgery may be required in some cases.
  • Kidney failure may arise, requiring dialysis.
  • Breathing problems may develop as chemical changes in the body can affect oxygen levels.
  • Diabetes may occur as insulin-producing cells are damaged.
  • Malnutrition is fairly common as the pancreas produces fewer enzymes, making it difficult to break down and process essential nutrients.
  • Pancreatic cancer is associated with long-term inflammation of the pancreas often due to chronic pancreatitis.

What to Do If You Suspect Pancreatitis

DO:

  • If symptoms are severe, seek emergency medical attention immediately.
  • If symptoms are mild or moderate, make an appointment with your physician.
  • Eat small, light meals that are low in fat.

DON’T:

  • Discount the symptoms as just discomfort.
  • Consume a high-fat meal.
  • Drink alcohol or smoke.

After a diagnosis of acute or chronic pancreatitis, nutrition must be the first priority. Click the button below to learn how to transition into a nutrient dense diet.