The pancreas is a long, flattened organ surrounded by the liver, spleen, and small intestine. It plays an critical role in turning food into fuel for the body. It contains glands that produce enzymes that aid in digestion, and the pancreas also produces the hormone insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels.
Pancreatitis is inflammation of the organ caused by its own enzymes building up to the point that they actually begin to digest the organ itself.
There are two types of pancreatitis, acute and chronic. As the names indicate, acute develops suddenly and can be quite severe, even life-threatening. A common cause of the acute variety is the presence of gallstones or the overuse of alcohol. Additionally, disease, trauma, and reactions to medications can also lead to acute pancreatitis. Symptoms include:
- Severe and constant pain in the upper middle portion of the abdomen (often radiating into the back)
- Abdominal bloating
Chronic pancreatitis is an ongoing form of the disease in which the organ continues to be damaged and lose function over a long period of time. It is common in people who abuse alcohol long term, have hereditary components, or links to certain diseases. Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis are:
- Abdominal pain
- Back pain
- Weight loss
- Pale colored stool
Diagnosis And Treatment
Pancreatitis can be determined based on symptoms. To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor may order blood work, CT- imaging, or one of several endoscopic tests. Treatment for acute pancreatitis includes antibiotics and pain medications. Complications are common and need to be addressed on a case by case basis. Chronic pancreatitis treatment involves pain management, dietary changes, supplements and monitoring for complications.
Pancreatitis, in either form, is a serious situation that requires medical attention. The physicians at Cary Gastroenterology are specially trained and experienced in the care of the GI tract, including the pancreas. Contact us today to make an appointment.