Pancreatitis refers to a condition characterised by inflammation in the pancreas, which is a long and flat gland, located in the upper abdomen, behind the stomach. Responsible for producing enzymes and hormones that assist the digestive process and process sugar, inflammation in this region can lead to troubling complications, including diabetes.


In Australia, the annual incidence for pancreatitis is estimated to be around 4.9-73.4 cases per 100,000 people.


Given that severe cases of this condition can become life-threatening, understanding its causes, symptoms, and treatment is important. Effective treatment will help you manage your symptoms effectively and prevent further complications.


Causes, symptoms and complications


Caused by the activation of digestive enzymes, which then irritate the cells of the pancreas, pancreatitis can either be acute, which lasts for a few days, or chronic, where the condition lasts for years.


Onset can be triggered by a variety of factors, spanning medical conditions, injuries, medical treatment, and certain lifestyle habits. These include:


  • Chronic alcohol consumption
  • Gallstones
  • Certain medications
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Abdominal surgery
  • High levels of calcium in the blood
  • High levels of triglyceride in the blood
  • Infections
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Certain treatments for gallstones
  • Obesity
  • Injury to the abdomen


The risk of onset can be further exacerbated by a family history of this condition, long-term tobacco consumption and unhealthy lifestyle habits, including being overweight.


If you are suffering from pancreatitis, you may experience different types of abdominal pain, including pain that extends to your back, quickened pulse, fever, nausea and vomiting, and tenderness when you touch your abdomen. These are more common in cases of acute pancreatitis.


Chronic pancreatitis, on the other hand, leads to losing weight without intending to and passing oily and pungent stools, in addition to experiencing abdominal pain. If left untreated or if your case is particularly complicated, pancreatitis can lead to more serious health issues including diabetes, kidney failure, pancreatic cancer, and even malnutrition.


Treatment


Procedures

Procedures or office-based interventions are treatment options for, both, acute and chronic pancreatitis but is usually reserved for cases that can’t be treated with other treatment options.


A cholecystectomy, which is where the gallbladder is removed, is used in cases of acute pancreatitis, specifically where gallstones are the cause of your symptoms. If you’re experiencing any complications, treatment may be preferred before performing surgery.


​Medical professionals may also drain the fluid in your stomach if any abscesses or infected pseudocysts are detected after a severe episode of pancreatitis. Damaged tissue may be removed from your pancreas as well.


​When it comes to chronic pancreatitis, on the other hand, the surgery undertaken will be to reduce any pressure or blockage in your pancreatic duct or to remove any parts of your pancreas that are damaged or infected.


​Additionally, you may benefit from a nerve block, which is where numbing agents are applied through the skin, targeting nerves that carry pain signals from the pancreas. Stones that are blocking your pancreatic duct may also be broken and removed.


An Endoscopic Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) may also be used to treat chronic and acute pancreatitis by combining an endoscopy and x-ray to address blockages of bile or gallstones in the pancreatic duct.


Medication

If you’re experiencing symptoms of chronic pancreatitis, you may be prescribed enzyme pills to ease digestion as well as vitamin supplements if you’re reporting signs of malabsorption.


Pain medication may also be prescribed for both forms of this condition.



For more information on pancreatitis, consult a medical professional with experience


Given the complications that can arise from severe cases of pancreatitis, receiving medical attention and guidance may help you avoid such consequences. Effective treatment may also relieve any pain and discomfort you’re experiencing as a result of this condition.


For more information, consult Dr Suhirdan Vivekanandarajah, an experienced interventional gastroenterologist and hepatologist in Sydney.

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