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Pancreatitis – What You Need to Know

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Pancreatitis refers to the swelling inside the pancreas. Normally, the pancreas produces enzymes which aid in digestion and hormones that help the body break down sugar.

A person can have a mild case of pancreatitis which can go away without treatment according to the Mayo Clinic. However, severe cases can have much more serious complications.

Causes and Symptoms

In a healthy pancreas, the enzymes in the pancreas are not “activated” until they reach the small intestine. However, with pancreatitis, the enzymes become activated while still in the pancreas. This causes the pancreas to become inflamed and irritated.

Additionally, other habits or conditions can lead to pancreatitis, such as:

Abdominal surgery
Certain medications
Cigarette smoking
Cystic fibrosis
Family history of pancreatitis
High calcium levels
High levels of parathyroid hormones
High triglyceride levels
Injury to abdomen
Pancreatic cancer

The symptoms a patient experiences depends on whether a patient experiences acute pancreatitis (appearing suddenly and lasting for days) or chronic pancreatitis (lasting over many years). Acute symptoms may include: upper abdominal pain that may or may not radiate to the back, abdominal pain that feels worse after eating and that’s relieved by leaning forward, nausea, vomiting, and tenderness around the abdomen.

Chronic symptoms include upper abdomen pain, indigestion, losing weight without trying, and oily-smelling stools.

Once you suspect you have a problem (especially with constant stomach pain), please see your physician as soon as possible. With constant bouts of inflammation, the pancreas can be damaged over time, leaving scar tissue that diminishes function, leading into digestion problems and diabetes.

Describe in detail to your doctor your symptoms and pain. He will begin blood and stool tests, a CT scan, an abdominal and endoscopic ultrasound, MRI, and any other test deemed necessary to rule out any other conditions.

Treatment and Lifestyle Changes

If diagnosed with pancreatitis, you will have to be hospitalized in order to rest the pancreas by being taken off solid foods for a couple of days. Gradually, you will be put back on regular foods. Since pancreatitis is very painful, pain management will be an issue. Lastly, you will need to have IV fluids as the body uses up fluids trying to repair the pancreas.

The length of the stay depends on how severe the pancreatitis is and what other underlying issues are involved. For instance, once the condition is brought under control and it is discovered that you have, let’s say…bile obstructions, surgery will be performed to open or widen the bile duct. Or, if your gallbladder is causing the pancreatitis, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the gallbladder. You get the picture.

Some of the most important things you can do is to take charge of your life by doing what you can by stop smoking and drinking alcohol completely, start on a low-fat diet (fresh fruits/veggies, whole grains, lean protein and low amount of fats) and drink plenty of water since pancreatitis can cause dehydration. Admittedly, not all of these recommendations apply to everyone, but take note of the ones that do.

These changes can improve the quality of life and even save a life in some cases.

Resources: Mayo Clinic

Dita Faulkner is a freelance writer, an advocate for women’s issues, and a campaigner in her Southern community.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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