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Pancreatitis – Causes and Symptoms of Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is a large gland behind the stomach and close to the duodenum. The duodenum is the upper part of the small intestine. The pancreas secretes digestive enzymes into the small intestine through a tube called the pancreatic duct. These enzymes help digest fats, proteins, and carbohydrates in food. The pancreas also releases the hormones insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream. These hormones help the body use the glucose it takes from food for energy.

Pancreatitis occurs most commonly after an episode of acute pancreatitis and is the result of ongoing inflammation of the pancreas. In more than 70% of the cases, chronic pancreatitis is caused by prolonged alcohol use. Other, less common causes include metabolic disorders. Very rarely, patients have chronic pancreatitis that tends to run in families (hereditary pancreatitis). Damage to the pancreas from excessive alcohol use may not cause symptoms for many years, but then the person may suddenly develop severe pancreatitis symptoms, including severe pain and loss of pancreatic function, resulting in digestion and blood sugar abnormalities.

Causes of Pancreatitis

Some people have more than one attack and recover completely after each, but acute pancreatitis can be a severe, life-threatening illness with many complications. About 80,000 cases occur in the United States each year; some 20 percent of them are severe. Acute pancreatitis occurs more often in men than women.

In many people with chronic pancreatitis, the condition is caused by prolonged alcohol drinking, resulting in pancreatic damage and scarring. In other cases of chronic pancreatitis, the cause may be metabolic, hereditary, or simply unknown.’

Pregnancy can also cause pancreatitis, but in some cases the development of pancreatitis is probably just a reflection of the hypertriglyceridemia which often occurs in pregnant women. Pancreas divisum, a common congenital malformation of the pancreas may underlie some cases of recurrent pancreatitis.

Gallstones form from a buildup of material within the gallbladder, another organ in the abdomen (please see previous illustration). A gallstone can block the pancreatic duct, trapping digestive juices inside the pancreas. Pancreatitis due to gallstones tends to occur most often in women older than 50 years of age.

Symptoms of Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis usually begins with pain in the upper abdomen that may last for a few days. The pain may be severe and may become constant—just in the abdomen—or it may reach to the back and other areas. It may be sudden and intense or begin as a mild pain that gets worse when food is eaten.

Acute pancreatitis may be the first sign of gallstone disease. The link between gallstones and acute pancreatitis is the anatomical union of the ducts that drain the gallbladder and pancreas, called the ampulla or major papilla of the duodenum.

Sometimes a person cannot stop vomiting and needs to have a tube placed in the stomach to remove fluid and air. In mild cases, a person may not eat for 3 or 4 days and instead may receive fluids and pain relievers through an intravenous line.

The pain occurs more often and lasts longer. You will begin to lose weight and show symptoms of diabetes, including increased thirst, appetite, urination, fatigue, and weight loss. Although it is unusual, chronic pancreatitis can lead to pancreatic cancer. In very severe cases called necrotizing pancreatitis, the pancreatic tissue begins to die from the tissue damage. In patients with necrotizing pancreatitis, the area between the ribs and the hip bone will be reddish-purple or greenish-brown, called Turner’s sign.

Source by peterhutch

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