What Is Pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, an organ that sits behind the stomach and produces digestive enzymes. The pancreas can become inflamed due to various underlying conditions or certain lifestyle factors. It is a rare condition that can become life-threatening if left untreated. It is found more often in men than woman and occurs most frequently between 30 and 40 years of age.
- Coxsackie virus
- Hepatitis B
- Herpes simplex virus
- Varicella-zoster virus
- Cystic Fibrosis
- High levels of blood fat
Acute pancreatitis occurs rapidly and suddenly. It can be mild and resolve on its own or it can be severe and require immediate treatment.
Chronic pancreatitis is long-term inflammation of the pancreas that occurs gradually over time, usually after an instance of acute pancreatitis.
- Upper abdominal pain
- Pain that radiates to the back
- Swollen, tender abdomen
- Increased heart rate
Most cases of pancreatitis are diagnosed in emergency rooms because of their sudden and severe onset. Diagnostic imaging such as abdominal x-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds or MRIs can reveal an inflamed pancreas. Tests such as pancreatic function tests can assess whether the pancreas is producing digestive enzymes normal. In some cases, a biopsy of the pancreatic tissue is needed to confirm the diagnosis.
Mild cases of acute pancreatitis can be resolved with IV fluids and pain medications. More severe cases require the patient to be admitted to the intensive care unit, because untreated pancreatitis can damage the heart, lungs and kidneys. In rare, serious cases, part of the pancreas may need to be removed if they have been severely damaged due to chronic inflammation.