The pancreas is a long, flat gland located behind the stomach that produces enzymes for digestion and hormones that help regulate how your body processes sugar. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, the digestive enzymes it produces can damage its tissue. Acute pancreatitis may only last for a few days, while chronic pancreatitis can occur over many years.
Causes of Pancreatitis
Pancreatitis can develop when digestive enzymes get activated while still inside the pancreas. Gallstones and alcoholism are the main causes of pancreatitis, though other causes can include:
- Abdominal surgery
- Certain medications that irritate the pancreas
- Cystic fibrosis
- High triglyceride levels
Pancreatitis is more common in males, and additional risk factors can include:
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- A family history of pancreatitis
Symptoms of Pancreatitis
The symptoms of acute pancreatitis can include upper abdominal pain that can spread to your back, fever, nausea, vomiting and a rapid pulse.
Chronic pancreatitis sufferers may experience:
- Constant, severe pain
- Sudden weight loss
- Oily diarrhea
- Diabetes, if insulin-producing pancreas cells are damaged
After reviewing your symptoms and medical history, your healthcare provider may suspect pancreatitis if certain risk factors, such as heavy alcohol use or gallbladder issues, are present. To properly diagnose acute pancreatitis, a blood test may be requested to measure the levels of the digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas. An ultrasound or CT scan may also be needed to confirm the diagnosis.
If chronic pancreatitis is suspected, one or more of the following tests and procedures may be recommended:
- A secretin pancreatic function test
- An oral glucose tolerance test
- A stool test
- An endoscopic ultrasound
- An endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography
Treatments for Pancreatitis
If you’re diagnosed with pancreatitis, you’ll likely be referred to a specialist to oversee your care. Treatment may include:
- Hospitalization with supportive care
- Pain medication
- Supplemental pancreatic enzymes
- An endoscopic procedure to remove gallstones or damaged parts of the pancreas
- Alcohol addiction counseling
Tampa General Hospital offers the highest level of care for a full range of conditions affecting the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, or the digestive system. We utilize the latest and most advanced technology when diagnosing and treating pancreatic disorders.