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Pancreatitis

An inflammation or infection of the pancreas -- an elongated, tapered gland that is located behind the stomach and secretes digestive enzymes and the hormones insulin and glucagon.

The various types of pancreatitis involve irritation, inflammation, and (or) infection of the pancreas. The disorders are differentiated according to whether symptoms develop suddenly or slowly.

illustration

Chronic pancreatitis involves persistent inflammation of the pancreas -- an elongated, tapered gland that is located behind the stomach and secretes digestive enzymes and the hormones insulin and glucagon. Chronic pancreatitis is most often caused by alcoholism and alcohol abuse, but sometimes the cause cannot be determined. Conditions such as hyperlipidemia or hyperparathyroidism, injury, and chronic obstruction of the pancreatic duct can also be associated with chronic pancreatitis.

illustation In this condition, inflammation and fibrosis cause the destruction of functioning glandular tissue in the pancreas. The resulting lack of pancreatic enzymes interferes with the ability to properly digest fat. The production of insulin is also affected, which can lead to diabetes. This condition is marked by attacks of abdominal pain and digestive problems that may become more frequent as the condition progresses. Chronic pancreatitis occurs more frequently in men than in women, perhaps because alcohol use disorders are more common in men.

Note: pancreatic cancer can cause symptoms and signs that are similar to those of chronic pancreatitis.

Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis:

  • Abdominal pain - greatest in the upper abdomen; may last from hours to days; eventually may be continuous; may be worsened by eating or drinking; may be worsened by alcohol consumption; may radiate to the back.
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Fatty stools
Sitting up and leaning forward may sometimes relieve the abdominal pain associated with pancreatitis.

 

illustation Acute pancreatitis is an inflammation (irritation and swelling with presence of extra immune cells) of the pancreas. The pancreas is an elongated, tapered gland, located behind the stomach, that secretes digestive enzymes and the hormones insulin and glucagon. The chief causes of acute pancreatitis in adults are gallstones, other gallbladder (biliary) disease, and alcohol use. Viral infection (mumps, coxsackie B, mycoplasma pneumonia, and campylobacter), traumatic injury, pancreatic or common bile duct surgical procedures and certain medications (especially estrogens, corticosteroids, thiazide diuretics, and azathioprine) are other causes.

The mechanism that causes pancreatitis is not well known. It is thought that enzymes normally secreted by the pancreas in an inactive form become activated inside the pancreas and start to digest the pancreatic tissue. This process is called autodigestion and causes swelling, hemorrhage, and damage to the blood vessels. An attack may last for 48 hours.

The disease affects men more often than women. Alcohol abuse is an important risk factor.

Symptoms of acute pancreatitis:

  • abdominal pain that is greatest in the upper abdomen (upper left quadrant or upper middle of the abdomen) - persistent or chronic; recurrent or with similar pain in the past; may be worse lying flat on the back (supine); may radiate to the back or below the left shoulder blade (left scapular area) radiating through to the middle of the back; may be worse after eating or drinking (occurs within minutes following meals), especially greasy foods or foods with a high fat content; may be worse after drinking alcohol.
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • sweating
  • anxiety
  • fever
  • mild jaundice

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