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What is pancreatitis?

The pancreas is a large gland that aids in the digestive process. It releases powerful digestive enzymes into the small intestine to help digest food and it also releases insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream. These two hormones help the body regulate the way it processes sugar for energy. Pancreatitis is when the pancreas becomes inflamed and is inhibited from performing its essential functions. Acute pancreatitis is the sudden, temporary inflammation of the pancreas. Most cases of acute pancreatitis are completely resolved with the right kind of treatment. Chronic pancreatitis typically develops slowly and can last much longer. Chronic pancreatitis is usually associated with heavy alcohol consumption. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with pancreatitis, expert help is available through your local GI Alliance.

What causes pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis occurs when the digestive enzymes mentioned above activate prematurely and begin to irritate and attack the pancreas. The main causes of pancreatitis are:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Gallstones
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Abdominal surgery
  • Infection
  • Certain medications
  • Family history of pancreatitis
  • Overactive parathyroid gland
  • High triglyceride levels in the blood
  • High calcium levels
  • Abdominal injuries
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Autoimmune Disease
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Trauma

What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?

The main symptoms of pancreatitis can include:

  • Fever
  • Increased heart rate
  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Upper abdominal pain that radiates to your back, especially after eating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Oily, smelly stools
  • The abdomen is swollen or tender to the touch

What are the treatments for pancreatitis?

Treatment for acute pancreatitis typically involves IV fluids, pain medications, and fasting to rest your pancreas. If the pancreatitis is severe enough then surgery may be necessary to remove the dead or damaged tissue if an infection develops. If acute pancreatitis is caused by gallstones, pancreatitis may be treated by surgical removal of the gallbladder.

Treatment for chronic pancreatitis involves:

  • Procedures to remove bile duct obstructions
  • Pancreas surgery
  • Treatment for alcohol dependence
  • Administration of enzymes to improve digestion
  • Adjusted diet – usually low fat
  • Stop drinking alcoholic beverages
  • Stop smoking
  • Insulin
  • Low-fat diet
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How can diet help avoid flare-ups of pancreatitis?

Managing pancreatitis often involves dietary adjustments to reduce strain on the pancreas and prevent flare-ups. A diet low in fats, particularly saturated fats, is crucial because high-fat foods can stimulate the pancreas to release digestive enzymes, potentially aggravating the condition. Opting for small, frequent meals can also help by ensuring the pancreas doesn't get overloaded. Additionally, incorporating easy-to-digest foods that are rich in antioxidants, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can support overall digestive health and reduce inflammation.

Can children get pancreatitis?

While it’s very rare, children can develop pancreatitis. Pancreatitis in children can arise due to various causes, including abdominal trauma, certain medications, infections, congenital anomalies in the pancreatic structure, or genetic factors. Symptoms might mirror those seen in adults, such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and elevated pancreatic enzymes. It's crucial for pancreatitis in children to be diagnosed and treated promptly to avoid complications.


What complications could arise with pancreatitis?

The severity of complications depends on what type of pancreatitis you are experiencing.

Most individuals with acute pancreatitis improve over time without enduring effects. The majority of patients experience a full recovery, though a minority may develop fluid collections near the pancreas that might necessitate medical drainage.

On the other hand, chronic pancreatitis may resolve itself, but typically this is a lengthier process that occurs after several episodes. Chronic pancreatitis carries a higher likelihood of persistent complications, which could include diabetes, weight loss, ongoing pain, and risk of pancreatic cancer.

The experts in pancreatic care

If you or a loved one suffers from pancreatitis, you want to trust your care to a skilled gastroenterologist. Whether your pancreatitis is acute or chronic, our GI doctors can come alongside you and provide expert treatment. GI Alliance provides patients with the nation's leading physician-led network of GI specialists. Our doctors are dedicated to serving with patient-centric compassion while maintaining the highest clinical standards. To consult with a gastroenterologist who specializes in your condition, contact your local GI Alliance.

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