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Pancreatitis describes the presence of inflammation in the pancreas, a long and flat gland located in the upper abdomen behind the stomach. The purpose of the pancreas is to produce enzymes that are responsible for glucose processing and digestion. It can be both acute and chronic. The acute form shows up suddenly and is gone within mere days, whereas the chronic form occurs for years. There are numerous causes for pancreatitis, which only describes the pancreas becoming inflamed and not the underlying condition causing it to occur.

Causes, Risk Factors and Complications of Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis happens when the digestive enzymes the pancreas produces become activated when not in the pancreas, which damages the organ. In the normal digestive process, inactivated pancreatic enzymes can move through ducts in the pancreas on the way to the small intestine. This is where they become activated, aiding in digestion and blood sugar regulation. When it occurs, these enzymes are activated prematurely, causing cell irritation in the organ and the symptoms associated with it.

There are many potential causes for pancreatitis including gallstones, alcoholism, abdominal surgery, taking certain medications, cystic fibrosis, cigarette smoking, family history, abdominal injury, pancreatic cancer, high levels of calcium (hypercalcemia), parathyroid hormone (hyperparathyroidism) or triglycerides (hypertriglyceridemia) in the blood, infection or having had endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP.)

Some cases of pancreatitis can resolve themselves, but many lead to serious complications when left untreated. Chronic pancreatitis is especially dangerous because it recurs and may not get the treatment that it requires. Breathing problems due to lung function changes, diabetes, kidney failure, infection, pancreatic cancer, malnutrition and pseudocysts are the most common serious complications associated with untreated pancreatitis. The best way to resolve pancreatitis and to prevent them is to seek professional treatment from a physician as soon as symptoms occur.

Signs, Symptoms and Tests for Pancreatitis

The symptoms associated with pancreatitis vary, but may include upper abdominal pain, radiating abdominal pain, nausea, abdominal pain worsening after eating, vomiting, tenderness in the abdomen, indigestion, losing weight effortlessly, steatorrhea or oily and smelly stools. In the event of persistent abdominal pain or chronic nausea and vomiting, the patient should seek professional medical assistance as soon as possible.

The physician will look for elevated pancreatic enzyme levels through blood examinations and elevated fat levels in stool tests. Abdominal ultrasound will aid in looking for inflammation and computerized tomography (CT) scan will help locate inflammation and gallbladder issues. Endoscopic ultrasound reveals inflammation and bile duct or pancreatic blockages. MRI or magnetic resonance imaging will reveal duct, pancreas and gallbladder abnormalities.

Treatment, Drugs and Prevention of Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis treatment typically requires hospitalization to stabilize the condition. During hospitalization, fasting, intravenous fluids and pain medications will be required. These treatment options will stabilize the situation, giving the pancreas time to recover properly from the inflammation. Treating the underlying cause of pancreatitis is essential; however treatment will vary from patient to patient. Some treatment options include: gallbladder surgery, bile duct obstruction removal, pancreas surgery and alcoholism treatment. Treating the underlying cause of this medical condition is essential to preventing chronic issues. Chronic pancreatitis treatment will likely include pain management, diet changes and enzymes for digestion improvement. Pancreatic enzymes will aid indigestion when taken in tablet form with every meal.