What is the pancreas?
Having a healthy pancreas is crucial for good health. Your pancreas is part of your digestive system and is responsible for the enzymes that let you break down food. It also produces hormones that regulate several body functions.
Your pancreas makes three enzymes:
- Lipase that helps to break down fats
- Protease that helps with proteins
- Amylase that breaks down starches in your diet
It also makes four hormones:
- Insulin helps you regulate blood sugar and use it for energy
- Glucagon tells your liver to release sugar when your levels get too low
- Amylin helps to control appetite and regulate stomach emptying
- Gastrin tells your stomach lining to produce gastric acid
If your pancreas isn't working properly, it can become inflamed or prevent you from absorbing all the nutrients your body needs. Pancreatitis is one of the problems your pancreas can develop, and it can have serious effects on your health.
What is pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis is a medical condition that develops due to an inflamed pancreas . This inflammation can be very painful, and in some cases, abdominal pain can build in intensity over just a few minutes. In pancreatitis, your digestive enzymes become activated too soon and begin to damage the inside of the pancreas.
There are two types of pancreatitis:
- Acute pancreatitis comes on suddenly or over several days but is considered a short-term medical issue. Most cases of acute pancreatitis are mild and clear up with treatment, but some people can develop a severe case that can be life-threatening.
- Chronic pancreatitis develops over many years due to regular inflammation of your pancreas. Each reoccurrence of acute pancreatitis damages your pancreas and can lead to permanent scarring. Over time, this damage can lead to complications and increase your risks of diabetes or pancreatic cancer.
Who is at risk for pancreatitis?
Anyone can get pancreatitis, but having certain medical conditions can increase your risks. You're more likely to develop pancreatitis if you have one of these conditions or concerns:
- Cystic fibrosis
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Certain autoimmune disorders
- High triglycerides in your blood
- High calcium levels in your blood
- Infection from virus, bacteria, or parasite
- Abdominal surgery
- Some medications
- Kidney transplant
Symptoms of pancreatitis
The symptoms of pancreatitis are similar whether acute or chronic. You may experience one or more of these symptoms:
Remedies for pancreatitis
- Antibiotics or antivirals
- IV fluids
- Pain medications
- Feeding tube or intravenous catheter
- Gallbladder surgery for gallstones
- Pancreas surgery for flushing and removing dead tissue
- Pancreatic enzymes
- Insulin for treating diabetes
You may need to be hospitalized
Although many people get a milder form of pancreatitis, they may still need at least an overnight stay in the hospital to make sure they're responding to treatment. Pancreatitis can lead to various complications such as new infections, pancreatic tissue death, fluid-filled cysts, or organ failure.
If you have mild to moderate pancreatitis, you may receive intravenous (IV) fluids, pain medication, and a low-fat, soft food diet once it's safe for you to eat. If you have nausea and vomiting, you may receive a feeding tube to help you eat.
If you have moderate to severe pancreatitis, you may experience a longer hospital stay in the intensive care unit (ICU). You will receive IV fluids and your care team will monitor your blood pressure, oxygen levels, and pulse. You may have several blood and urine tests to check for infections and general blood health. Feeding tubes or intravenous nutrition can help you get the nutrients your body needs.
Foods for a pancreatitis diet
Usually, doctors recommend that you avoid foods for a few days to let your pancreas rest. Once they give you the okay to resume eating, you should try to eat low-fat foods to avoid more discomfort and pain.
Try to include the following types of foods:
- Lean-meat proteins
- White fish or canned fish
- Beans and lentils
- Whole grains
- Low-fat dairy
- Fresh herbs and spices
- Tomato-based sauces
You should try to avoid eating food higher in fats, even if they are healthy foods:
Risks and outlook
Some people are at risk of developing serious complications, either with repeat pancreatitis or with severe cases. You could develop potential complications such as:
- Necrotizing pancreatitis, or tissue death in your pancreas
- Pancreatic cancer
- Organ failure, such as kidney, lungs, or heart failure
- Pseudocysts, or fluid-filled cysts that can rupture and bleed
Lifestyle changes and recovering from pancreatitis
Once you're on the road to recovery from pancreatitis, your doctor will likely recommend that you make several lifestyle changes. Making these changes can help to reduce your chances for developing pancreatitis again. It can also help to lessen your risks for serious complications.
Try to make the following changes:
Speak to your doctor if any of your symptoms return or worsen. Pancreatitis can often resolve with proper treatment, letting you get back to life without discomfort.
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American Gastroenterological Association: "Pancreatitis."
Cleveland Clinic: "The Best (and Worst) Foods for Pancreatitis Pain."
Johns Hopkins Medicine: "The Digestive Process: What Is the Role of Your Pancreas in Digestion?” Merck Manual: "Acute Pancreatitis."
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Definition & Facts for Pancreatitis."
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Symptoms & Causes of Pancreatitis."
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Treatment for Pancreatitis."