In simple words pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas. Pancreas is the organ behind the stomach which produces digestive enzymes. In pancreatitis the pancreas is inflamed. The damage occurs when the digestive enzymes are activated before they are released into the small intestine which generally does not become active until they reach the small intestine. They then start attacking the pancreas and damage the tissues.
Pancreatitis can be of two types:
The more common and less dangerous type of pancreatitis is acute pancreatitis. It is often caused very sudden and usually resolves within a few days of treatment. However, it can be life threatening too with severe complications. Therefore, it may range from a light discomfort to a severe, life threatening illness. Gallstones are the most common cause of acute pancreatitis. They cause inflammation in the process as they pass through the common bile duct. Other causes include abdominal trauma, medications, infections, tumours, and alcohol.
The symptoms of acute pancreatitis include:
- Swollen and tender abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid pulse
- Upper abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite due to abdominal pain
Severe acute pancreatitis may cause dehydration and low blood pressure. The heart, lungs, or kidneys can fail. If bleeding occurs in the pancreas, shock and even death may follow.
Chronic pancreatitis is the long lasting repeated inflammation of the pancreas. And often happens after acute pancreatitis. Heavy alcohol is another major cause. Scar tissue develops from long-term inflammation. Extensive scar tissue may cause your pancreas to stop making the normal amount of digestive enzymes which in turn troubles digesting fats. Autoimmune and genetic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, can also cause chronic pancreatitis in some patients.
Most people with chronic pancreatitis experience upper abdominal pain, although some people have no pain at all. Other symptoms include:
- weight loss
- oily stools
People with chronic pancreatitis often lose weight, even when their appetite and eating habits are normal. The weight loss occurs because the body does not secrete enough pancreatic enzymes to digest food, so nutrients are not absorbed normally. Poor digestion leads to malnutrition due to excretion of fat in the stool.
People with acute pancreatitis are typically treated with IV fluids and pain medicines in the hospital. In some patients, the pancreatitis can be severe and they may need to be admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU). Some cases of severe pancreatitis can result in death of pancreatic tissue. In these cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the dead or damaged tissue if an infection develops. People with chronic pancreatitis are strongly advised not to smoke or consume alcoholic beverages, even if the pancreatitis is mild or in the early stages.