What is Pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis is the inflammation and autodigestion of the pancreas. Autodigestion describes a process whereby pancreatic enzymes destroy its own tissue leading to inflammation. The inflammation may be acute or chronic. Acute pancreatitis usually involves a single "attack," after which the pancreas returns to normal. Severe acute pancreatitis can be life threatening. In chronic pancreatitis, permanent damage occurs to the pancreas and its function, often leading to fibrosis.
What are the Symptoms of Pancreatitis?
Each individual may experience symptoms differently. Some common symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain that may radiate to the back or chest
- Rapid pulse rate
- Swelling in the upper abdomen
- Ascites (fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity)
- Dropping blood pressure
- Mild jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and eyes)
How is Pancreatitis Diagnosed?
In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for pancreatitis may include the following:
- Abdominal X-ray
- Various blood tests
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP).
- CT or CAT scan
- ECG or EKG
- Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)
How is Pancreatitis Treated?
Specific treatment for pancreatitis will be determined by your doctor based on a variety of factors. The overall goal for treatment of pancreatitis is to rest the pancreas and allow it to recover from the inflammation.
Treatment may include:
- Hospitalization for observation and intravenous (IV) feeding
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
- Avoiding alcohol (if the pancreatitis is caused by alcohol abuse)
- Pain management
- Frequent blood tests (to monitor electrolytes and kidney function)
- No food by mouth for several days
- Bed rest or light activity only
- Placement of a nasogastric tube (tube inserted into the nose that ends in the stomach)
Individuals with chronic pancreatitis may also require:
- Enzyme supplements to aid in food digestion
- Insulin (if diabetes develops)
- Small high-protein meals
- Medications (for example, H2-blockers) to decrease gastric acid production in the stomach