What is pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is defined as the condition in which the pancreas gland becomes inflamed. This is a fairly rare condition, but quite dangerous. The pancreas is an important gland of the human body and is located in the upper abdomen, behind the stomach. It has a dual function producing both enzymes and hormones vital for the human body.

The enzymes produced are carried to the small intestine and mainly contribute to the breakdown of proteins ingested from food. The hormones produced in the pancreas are insulin and glucagon, which are released into the blood directly.


Types of pancreatitis

Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic. Acute pancreatitis appears suddenly and in most cases it has unclear etiology. If left treated, it then becomes chronic pancreatitis. The latter can be the cause of abnormalities in digestion as well as blood sugar.


What are the causes of pancreatitis?

The main causes of pancreatitis are two: alcohol overconsumption and gallstones. Pancreatitis – more specifically acute pancreatitis – can occur as a complication of cholelithiasis (gallstones).

In addition, there are some other factors that have been identified with its occurrence. In most cases, however, the exact etiology cannot be determined.

Additional causes of pancreatitis include:

  • injury to the abdomen (e.g., after a fall)
  • some types of medication
  • hypertriglyceridemia
  • surgery in the area
  • cystic fibrosis
  • hypercalcemia
  • obesity
  • biliary disorders
  • anatomical dysfunctions of the pancreas
  • viral infections
  • parasites

What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?

Depending on the type of pancreatitis (acute or chronic), the symptoms may differ. Acute pancreatitis is manifested by severe pain – sudden or escalating – which can often radiate to the back. In addition, the pain may be accompanied by:

  • motion sickness
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • sensitivity of the area to touching
  • flatulence (abdominal bloating)

In cases of chronic pancreatitis, the following symptoms may also appear:

  • upper abdominal pain
  • weight loss
  • abdominal pain that increases after eating
  • excessively malodorous stools
  • inability to produce insulin and the onset of diabetes
  • anemia
  • jaundice

Diagnosis of pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is a medical emergency. The attending physician, after getting the patient’s complete history, proceeds with a clinical examination and blood tests to check pancreatic enzymes, and more specifically lipase and amylase.

Pain in the area combined with the increased value of lipase and amylase usually indicates pancreatitis. In some cases, a CT scan of the upper abdomen is recommended for a more accurate diagnosis.


What is the treatment for pancreatitis?

The treatment of choice for pancreatitis depends on its severity. In most cases it is treated conservatively.

Acute pancreatitis can be managed with parenteral fluids, antipyretic therapy, and pain medication. However, hospitalization of the patient is usually necessary because continuous monitoring is required. Patients can start a liquid diet when they no longer vomit.

If and when the onset of pancreatitis is due to cholelithiasis, the treatment of choice is laparoscopic cholecystectomy in order to remove  all gallstones. The surgery can take place  as soon as the symptoms of pancreatitis subside.

Surgeon Pericles S. Chrysocheris is a member of the American College of Surgeons and has excellent experience in numerous surgical operations. He is always close to the patient and provides a personalized diagnosis in each case, proposing modern treatment methods. Contact the doctor immediately for any question or clarification regarding pancreatitis and its treatment.