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What is pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is a medical condition that occurs when the pancreas—a glandular organ located behind the stomach—becomes inflamed. The pancreas is responsible for producing enzymes that aid in digestion and hormones that regulate blood sugar levels. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, it can cause these enzymes to be released prematurely, leading to damage to the pancreas and surrounding tissues.

What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?

  • Severe abdominal pain may be felt in the upper abdomen and may worsen after eating or drinking.
  • Pancreatitis can cause nausea and vomiting and may be severe in some cases.
  • Fever and chills
  • A rapid heartbeat may occur due to inflammation and other complications of pancreatitis.
  • Swollen or tender abdomen
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice: In severe cases of pancreatitis, the skin and whites of the eyes may become yellow due to the buildup of bilirubin in the blood.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with a primary care provider today.

What are the risk factors for pancreatitis?

  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Gallstones can cause inflammation and blockage of the pancreas.
  • High levels of triglycerides, a type of fat found in the blood, can increase the risk of developing pancreatitis.
  • Certain medications, such as steroids and certain antibiotics, can increase the risk of developing pancreatitis.
  • A family history of pancreatitis or other pancreatic disorders can increase the risk of developing the condition.
  • Infections such as viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections can increase the risk of developing pancreatitis.
  • Trauma to the abdomen, such as a blow to the area, can cause inflammation of the pancreas.
  • Cigarette smoking can increase your risk of developing pancreatitis.

What are the types of pancreatitis?

There are two types of pancreatitis: acute and chronic.

  • Acute pancreatitis is a sudden inflammation of the pancreas that typically lasts for a few days to a few weeks.
  • Chronic pancreatitis is a long-term inflammation that can lead to permanent damage to the pancreas.

How to diagnose pancreatitis

Some of the tests that may be used to diagnose pancreatitis include:

  • Blood tests can help identify elevated levels of pancreatic enzymes such as amylase and lipase, which are typically elevated in acute pancreatitis.
  • Imaging tests such as ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI can help detect inflammation, swelling, or other abnormalities of the pancreas.
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is a procedure that combines endoscopy and X-rays to examine the pancreas and bile ducts.
  • Stool tests can check for the presence of fat, which can indicate problems with digestion.

A biopsy examines a sample of pancreatic tissue for signs of inflammation or damage.

Pancreatitis treatments

The treatment of pancreatitis depends on the severity of the condition and the underlying cause. Treatment may involve:

  • Fasting: Fasting for a few days may be necessary to give the pancreas time to heal and rest.
  • Pain management: Your provider may prescribe pain medication to help manage the pain associated with pancreatitis.
  • Nutritional support: Your provider or nutritionist may recommend a special diet to support the pancreas and prevent malnutrition.
  • Management of underlying cause: If the cause of pancreatitis is related to an underlying condition such as gallstones or high triglycerides, treating these conditions may help prevent future episodes of pancreatitis.
  • Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove damaged tissue or to remove gallstones.

Our experienced, board-certified gastroenterologists serve patients throughout the Greater Houston area. No matter where you live or which location you choose, you can trust that we will provide the same patient-centered standards of quality care to everyone.

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