What is pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis is a disease characterized by the swelling and inflammation of the pancreas.
It can occur suddenly (acute pancreatitis) or attain a persistent effect (chronic pancreatitis).
It is a serious condition that requires hospitalization.
How does pancreatitis take place?
These digestive juices are released into the duodenum through the common bile duct, the same tube that expels gallbladder bile.
When pancreatic juices are activated for some reason within the pancreas, they cause the digestion of this organ itself, damaging it and causing pancreatitis. For example, this happens when the duct connecting the pancreas with the intestine is blocked by gallstones and juices can not be released in the intestine.
Causes of pancreatitis
- Sex: Pancreatitis tends to affect men more than women.
- Alcoholism: Acute pancreatitis may occur after ingestion of large amounts of alcohol. Alcohol is toxic to the pancreas, and also causes contraction of the outlet orifice of pancreatic juice, avoiding it to be expelled and causing this juice to be accumulated in the pancreas.
- Biliary stones: Pancreas shares the tube that carries digestive juices with the gallbladder. If a stone obstructs the bile duct, digestive juices can not be released into the intestine and begin to “digest” the pancreas itself.
- Other causes of pancreatitis: High triglycerides , hyperparathyroidism, hypercalcemia (high levels of calcium in the blood), hemochromatosis (accumulation of iron in the liver), immune diseases such as lupus, side effects of certain medications (corticosteroids, estrogens, etc..) or pancreas disease such as cystic fibrosis or pancreatic cancer.
Types of pancreatitis
There are two types of pancreatitis:
- Acute pancreatitis: Acute timely inflammation of the pancreas with diffuse involvement of the organ. One of the most common causes of this type of pancreatitis is the excessive consumption of fat (very heavy meals), high consumption of alcohol, or as a result of gallstones. It can be:
- Interstitialedematous pancreatitis: The vast majority of cases of acute pancreatitis are of this type (90%). The organ is affected and there is little edema in the interstitial space. It is a nongrave disease that is resolved in a few days. There is a possibility for it to become the more complicated necro hemorrhagic pancreatitis.
- Necrohemorrhagic or necrotizing pancreatitis: The inflammation affects the entire body, including blood vessels that feed and nourish the cells of the pancreas. It implies a necrosis (cell death) of parts of the pancreas. With proper treatment, it can take from 23 weeks to recover. It is a type of pancreatitis that appears suddenly, without symptoms. The treatment can restore the organ again, although, in some cases, there can be serious complications.
- Chronic pancreatitis: Caused by progressive and irreversible lesions of the pancreas. Can occur for various reasons, such as in individuals with autoimmune diseases. Appears in outbreaks. The disease is progressive and eventually the body deteriorates, losing its functions, appears fibrosis, etc.
Symptoms of acute pancreatitis
Acute pancreatitis appears at certain times, such as after excessive alcohol consumption, or for causes such as obstruction of the ducts by gallstones.
Sometimes pancreatitis symptoms are similar to those of appendicitis and may be mistaken.
The main symptoms of acute pancreatitis are:
- Intense stomach pain on the right side or middle of the abdomen. The pain worsens when eating or drinking, especially if you take fat foods.
- Yellow stools
- Complications such as cystic fibrosis
- Alcohol intolerance.
Patients may spend two, three or more days in hospital depending on the severity. Usually the disease subsides within a few days with no sequelae.
Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis
Chronic pancreatitis, unlike previous pancreatitis, produces irreversible lesions. The main symptoms are in addition to the above:
- Difficult digestions
- Persistent severe abdominal pain, especially when eating foods rich in fat or oil.
- Poor digestion of food, resulting in malnutrition.
- Malfunction of body and metabolism problems.
- Complications such as cystic fibrosis, pancreatic insufficiency and diabetes (after many years of evolution of the disease).
Treatment of pancreatitis
Each type of pancreatitis receives different medical treatment. You will generally be treated with:
- Analgesics for pain
- Intravenous nutrition to prevent the patient from eating food. Eating foods liquid or solid stimulates the activity of the pancreas,
- Removal of gallstones in case the problem is caused by this reason.
More information on pancreatitis.