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Pancreatitis
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Pancreatitis

From MayoClinic.com

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DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
Diseases & Conditions  

Pancreatitis is a painful inflammation of your pancreas. It's a stomachache like you've never had before. The pain in your upper abdomen bores through to your back. Lying flat causes your abdomen to hurt even more, so to relieve the pain, you double over. Pain like this - which may last for many hours to days - is typical of pancreatitis.

The pancreas is a long, flat gland that lies horizontally behind your stomach. The head of the pancreas rests against the upper part of the small intestine (duodenum), and its tail reaches toward your spleen.

The pancreas has two main functions:

  • Its cells produce digestive juices and enzymes that help break down fats, carbohydrates and proteins (pancreatic exocrine function). Once produced, these juices and enzymes are then transported through a small duct that opens into your duodenum.
  • It secretes the hormones insulin and glucagon into your bloodstream, along with somatostatin, another hormone that helps regulate their function. The primary role of insulin and glucagon is to regulate the metabolism of carbohydrates and to control the level of sugar in your blood.

When inflammation develops in the pancreas, these functions are disrupted. The inflammation can be acute or chronic. Most cases are mild to moderate, but in about 20 percent of cases, symptoms can be severe. Acute pancreatitis requires immediate medical care to avoid complications that can be fatal.

Signs and symptoms

Acute pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis comes on suddenly when digestive enzymes produced in the pancreas remain there and become active, irritating and inflaming delicate pancreatic tissues. Normally, digestive enzymes are transported to the duodenum, and become active there.

The main symptom is mild to severe pain in your upper abdomen that often radiates to your back and, occasionally, your chest. It can persist for hours or days without relief. Drinking alcohol or eating may worsen the pain. Many people with acute pancreatitis sit up and bend forward or curl up in a fetal position because these positions seem to relieve the pain.

People with severe inflammation often feel and look very sick, and they frequently experience nausea and vomiting. Other signs and symptoms may include a high fever, difficulty breathing and abdominal bruises from internal bleeding.

Chronic pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis differs in that the inflammation happens over time, often many years. This disease is usually less obvious, and in its early stages, its signs and symptoms can be difficult to recognize. Some people with chronic pancreatitis have no pain. Others have intermittent periods of mild to moderate abdominal pain. The pain may be sharp and last for a few hours, or it may be a continuous dull ache that lasts for weeks. In addition to pain, you may experience nausea and vomiting, fever, bloating and gas. Drinking alcohol or eating can make the symptoms worse.

Unlike acute pancreatitis, which may improve spontaneously without long-term complications, chronic disease results in permanent damage. As the inflammation persists, it slowly destroys the pancreas. The organ is less able to secrete the enzymes and hormones needed for proper digestion. This leads to poor absorption (malabsorption) of nutrients, particularly fat, causing weight loss and passage of fat-containing stools that are loose, malodorous and oily in appearance. Eventually, the cells that produce insulin are impaired, causing diabetes.

Unfortunately, warnings of malabsorption and diabetes often don't appear until the inflammation is advanced.

 

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
In no event will The DrEddyClinic.com be liable for any decision made or action taken in reliance upon the information provided through this web site.

 

 



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Last Modified : 03/15/08 01:43 AM