For many people, long removed from high school or college biology classes, it can be difficult to remember what exactly the pancreas even does, much less any of the ailments that commonly occur with the pancreas. Well, here’s a little refresher: the pancreas is a gland in the body that produces many important bodily substances, including insulin, glucagon, and pancreatic juice, a substance that aids in digestion. The pancreas is a vital body part, and most people only get truly familiar with the pancreas when it malfunctions, such as when it fails to produce enough insulin and causes a person to develop diabetes and need insulin shots. But chronic pancreatitis is another condition of the pancreas. Chronic pancreatitis occurs when this flat, elongated gland that is situated behind the stomach becomes inflamed.
Chronic pancreatitis is just one of two types of pancreatitis – chronic and acute. As the name suggests, acute pancreatitis develops suddenly and can last for days. On the other hand, chronic pancreatitis develops over a long period of time, usually years. You may wonder if some strange signs and symptoms you are experiencing mean that you have chronic pancreatitis. Read on for a list of the signs and symptoms of chronic pancreatitis.
If you are experiencing unusual abdominal pain, you may have either acute or chronic pancreatitis. Abdominal pain symptoms include pain that radiates to your back, pain that grows worse after a meal or snack, pain relief when leaning forward or curling into a ball, and tenderness when touching the abdomen. Nausea and vomiting may also occur. Symptoms more specifically associated with chronic pancreatitis include pain in the upper abdomen, frequent indigestion, unexplained weight loss, and oily, smelly stools. If you are suffering any of these symptoms, it is a good idea to make an appointment with your primary care physician, who can check you for acute or chronic pancreatitis. If you are experiencing severe abdominal pain that makes it difficult to move or function, skip the appointment with the primary care physician and head directly to the emergency room, as you could be suffering from a serious medical condition.
But what causes pancreatitis anyway? Pancreatitis, both chronic and acute, is caused when the digestive enzymes created by the pancreas start operating too soon. These enzymes are supposed to head over to the digestive tract before activating and helping to digest food. But when someone suffers from acute or chronic pancreatitis, these digestive enzymes activate while still situated in the pancreas. Thank of it as akin to a bomb exploding on the manufacturing floor rather than one the battlefield . As you can imagine, this is not a desired effect!
Pancreatitis has many causes, and can be induced by illness and medical issues or by behaviors. Illness and medical issues that can cause chronic pancreatitis include gallstones, abdominal surgery, cystic fibrosis, receiving ERCP treatment of gallstones, high blood calcium levels, elevated hormone levels, infection and abdomen injury, pancreatic cancer, and ulcers among several others. Lifestyle factors that put people at risk for acute or chronic pancreatitis include alcoholism and cigarette smoking.
If left untreated, acute and chronic pancreatitis can cause severe side effects, including diabetes, infection, breathing problems, and kidney failure. For that reason, it is imperative to make an appointment with your primary care physician as soon as possible if you find yourself suffering from the symptoms of pancreatitis. If a doctor suspects pancreatitis, he or she will perform tests, including blood and stool tests, ultrasounds or CT scans to determine whether you are suffering from pancreatitis and what the appropriate course of treatment will be. Treatment could be anything from medication to a surgical procedure.