Pancreatitis is when the pancreas becomes inflamed. Your pancreas is located behind your stomach in the upper portion of your abdomen, appearing as a long, flat gland. It’s the job of your pancreas to produce enzymes that aid in digestion as well as hormones that regulate how your body processes sugar, also known as glucose.
It can present as acute pancreatitis (shows up suddenly and lasts for many days) or chronic (an ongoing condition that occurs over several years). You can get away without treatment for the mildest of cases; however, severe cases can bring on life-threatening complications and therefore need attention right away.
Signs and Symptoms
These can vary by patient, but in general, acute pancreatitis can make itself known with:
- Upper abdominal pain
- Abdominal pain radiating to your back
- Abdominal pain that worsens after eating
- Fast pulse
- Tender abdomen
The signs and symptoms of chronic pancreatitis can include:
- Upper abdominal pain
- Weight loss without trying
- Stools that smell oily, also known as steatorrhea
You may be wondering when you should see a doctor. It’s time to make an appointment with your doctor (ideally, a gastroenterologist) if you are experiencing persistent abdominal pain that just won’t go away. Head to the ER if that pain is so great that you can’t even sit down comfortably.
Causes and Complications
Pancreatitis happens when digestive enzymes are activated while in the pancreas, which causes irritation of pancreatic cells and thus leads to inflammation. Lasting damage can occur over the long term, so it’s important to get treated right away. Also, scar tissue can form and bring about a degree of function loss. A pancreas that does not function well can trigger digestion problems as well as diabetes.
Conditions leading to pancreatitis include:
- Abdominal surgery
- Smoking tobacco
- Cystic fibrosis
- Family history
- High levels of calcium in the blood
- High levels of triglycerides in the blood
- Pancreatic cancer
Unfortunately, you may never know what caused your pancreatitis. Work with your doctor to ensure you explore all options. If not, you can run into many complications.
- Pseudocyst: This is when fluid and debris gather in cyst-like pockets in the pancreas. If it ruptures, it can cause internal bleeding and infection.
- Infection: This can introduce bacteria and infection, leading to possible surgery if not caught right away.
- Kidney failure: This will have to be treated with dialysis for severe cases. Breathing problems: Lung function can be affected, causing your oxygen levels to fall dangerously low.
- Diabetes: This is spurred on by damage to insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, leading to diabetes.
- Malnutrition: This can cause you to produce fewer enzymes necessary to break down and process nutrients from any food you ingest. Malnutrition, diarrhea, and weight loss can result.
- Pancreatic cancer: Untreated inflammation caused by chronic pancreatitis is a top risk factor for the development of pancreatic cancer.
Due to the fact that the pancreas is so closely related to the digestive tract, it can be affected greatly by your diet. Inflammation can be triggered by the presence of gallstones. However, when you have flare-ups occurring on a regular basis, your diet could be to blame. It helps to learn about the best types of food to eat that can protect and heal your pancreas.
What to eat:
- Foods rich in protein and low in animal fats
- Food with antioxidants, such as lean meats, beans and lentils, soup, and dairy alternatives like almond milk. These foods are great because your pancreas doesn’t have to work as hard to process them.
- Spinach, blueberries, cherries, and whole grains (fight free radicals that can harm organs)
- Low-sugar foods such as cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and hummus
What NOT to eat:
- Red meat
- Fried foods
- Potato chips
- Margarine and butter
- Full-fat dairy
- Pastries and desserts with added sugars
- Beverages with added sugars
- Cakes and cookies made with refined flour
It’s also best to limit your alcohol intake, as well as quit smoking. Stay hydrated at all times, ideally drinking water over soda and juice. Take supplements and eat foods that contain vitamins A, D, E, and K. Your gastroenterologist can refer you to a dietitian or nutritionist if you need help creating a menu you can live with. It’s also a good idea to eat between six and eight small meals throughout the day rather than three big ones as you heal from pancreatitis.
Call 681-342-3690 for an appointment with a gastroenterology specialist today.
Please note, the information provided throughout this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and video, on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. If you are experiencing related symptoms, please visit your doctor or call 9-1-1 in an emergency.