Understanding Pancreatitis- Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Written by Sai Pragna Chagarla, Staff Writer – Hola Health
Medically reviewed by Dr. Nelson Lau - MBBS FRACGP

The pancreas, situated in the abdomen, plays a vital role in the secretion of enzymes to aid the digestion of the food we consume as well as control and produce important hormones including insulin and glucagon. It helps in controlling the glucose levels in the body and breaking down the food for further digestion.

Due to the fast-paced lifestyle, excessive consumption of alcohol and fats, stress and sedentary lifestyle, pancreatitis is on the rise in recent times.

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What Is Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is an inflammation in the pancreas caused by a plethora of reasons including excessive alcohol consumption, gallstones, obesity and other conditions. The annual occurrence around the world is 4.9-73.4 cases per 100,000 people with the frequency in Australia in the higher end of the spectrum. There are two types of Pancreatitis:

Acute Pancreatitis: This is a sudden onset of inflammation in the pancreas. This can be mild to severe depending on the attack. With mild acute pancreatitis, medical management with abstinence from alcohol would help in reducing it. In severe cases, it might need surgery and can also have other complications such as an organ failure.

Chronic Pancreatitis: This is a recurring condition where the patient has inflammation of the pancreas for a longer period. Repeated episodes of acute pancreatitis with pain getting worse each time, jaundice, and trouble digesting fats or food are some of the major indicators of chronic pancreatitis.

What Are The Causes Of Pancreatitis?

Gallstones and excessive consumption of alcohol are the two most common causes of Pancreatitis. Almost 1 in 2 people with pancreatitis have been excessive drinkers. Some of the major causes are:

  • Gallstones: One of the leading causes of pancreatitis is the presence of gallstones, which can block the flow of enzymes out of the pancreas, leading to build up of enzymes and inflammation.
  • Alcohol Consumption: Excessive alcohol intake can trigger inflammation of the pancreas over time.
  • Trauma or Injury: Physical trauma, surgery, or injury to the abdomen
  • Genetic Factors or metabolic disorders such as lupus
  • Infections: Certain infections, such as mumps, can lead to inflammation of the pancreas.
  • Elevated levels of triglycerides.
  • Smoking
  • Obesity

What Are The Symptoms Of Pancreatitis?

The symptoms of Pancreatitis vary depending on the severity of the condition. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain (often severe and may radiate to the back) especially when eating or drinking.
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever and elevated heart rate  
  • Loose stools
  • Jaundice
  • Loss of appetite

In chronic pancreatitis, there is an increasing dysfunction of digestion which further leads to weight loss, foul smelling and oily stools, and diarrhoea. It is important to seek a doctor immediately after having any of the above symptoms to not aggravate the condition into chronic pancreatitis.

How Will Pancreatitis Be Diagnosed?

Diagnosing pancreatitis typically involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests. Blood tests, imaging studies such as CT scans or MRIs, and sometimes endoscopic procedures may be used to confirm the diagnosis and determine the severity of the condition.

It is important to make a first contact with the General Practitioner (GP) to understand if your symptoms indicate that you may have pancreatitis. If your symptoms are severe, you should seek medical attention immediately. However, if your symptoms are mild, you can now contact the GP’s from the comfort of your home and in under 15 minutes with Hola Health. The doctor can then guide you on the procedure and requests for tests if necessary

What Would Be The Treatment For Pancreatitis?

The treatment for pancreatitis starts with resting the pancreas and medical management. In case of acute pancreatitis, you will usually be admitted to the hospital and the following are sometimes included in the treatment, such as:

  • Fasting and resting of pancreas
  • Pain management
  • Antibiotics if there is evidence of an infection.
  • Intravenous Fluids  
  • Treatment depending on the cause such as gallstone removal or alcohol cessation.
  • Supplements for digestion
  • In worst cases, surgery to treat or remove the infected areas.

In case of chronic pancreatitis, doctors may suggest treatment at home if it is not severe with supplements for digestion, insulin for diabetes, eating healthy and avoiding fats, avoiding alcohol and medication for pancreatitis.

How Can I Prevent Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis can be avoided by ensuring your pancreas are healthy. Here are some tips:

  • Balanced and healthy diet with limited fats, low sugar, less or no processed foods and less salt
  • Exercise daily to maintain ideal health and weight.
  • Moderate the alcohol consumption and give your body enough rest to recover.
  • Hydration to filter out toxins from the body.
  • Stress management
  • Regular health checkups
  • Consult a healthcare professional immediately if you notice  any of the symptoms mentioned.

Maintaining a healthy pancreas is crucial for overall health and well-being. Adopting a balanced lifestyle, including a nutritious diet, regular exercise, and stress management, contributes to the optimal functioning of this vital organ and reduces the risk of associated conditions. Regular check-ups and early intervention are key elements in preserving pancreatic health and preventing pancreatitisWhile these measures can reduce the risk, they cannot guarantee prevention, especially in individuals with genetic predispositions or other uncontrollable risk factors.

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Reference

1. Yadav D, Lowenfels AB. Trends in the epidemiology of the first attack of acute pancreatitis: a systematic review. Pancreas 2006.

2. Australian Burden of Disease Study 2022, AIHW: Reference Link, accessed on 14 November 2023.

3. Pancreatitis, Health Direct: Reference Link

4. Pancreatitis, Kidney transplant and diabetes research Australia: Reference Link

5. Pancreatitis, Better Health: Reference Link

6. Acute Pancreatitis – update on management-Medical Journal of Australia: Reference Link

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Disclaimer

This content is created for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. For emergencies please immediately contact 000.