Pancreatitis is a distressing ailment that occurs when the pancreas, a crucial organ that helps to digest food and control blood sugar levels, becomes swollen and irritated. This article will explore what pancreatitis is, both acute and chronic.
Discover what sets off this condition, it telltale signs and the diverse approaches to treatment, including medical procedures, self-care techniques and a targeted pancreatitis diet.
Located behind the stomach in the upper belly, the pancreas produces digestive enzymes and regulates sugar-processing hormones, crucial for well-being.
Simply put, pancreatitis is the redness and swelling (inflammation) of the pancreas that occurs when digestive juices or enzymes go after the organ, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. It is painful, and symptoms can trigger questions such as "Can you die from pancreatitis?" and "What does pancreatitis feel like?"
The unfortunate truth is that you can die from complications of acute pancreatitis if it’s very severe, according to the Cleveland Clinic. In a minority of individuals, intense acute pancreatitis triggers a widespread response that affects the entire body. This can lead to shock and failure of various organs, which could turn fatal if swift intervention doesn’t occur.
Acute pancreatitis arrives suddenly, and its impact is felt over days. Chronic pancreatitis, meanwhile, unfolds gradually, spanning years.
Mild instances of pancreatitis often respond well to treatment, but the stakes escalate with severe cases. These can unleash life-threatening complications.
“Pain from pancreatitis, for most people, is in the upper abdomen and often radiates to the back between the shoulder blades up high in the back and is what typical acute pancreatitis pain is like," she explained.
Once patients develop chronic pain, it's much more difficult, Winslow said.
“When patients with pancreatitis have episodes of pain, sometimes it's clear what’s caused them," she said in the video. "So, maybe alcohol. Sometimes, certain foods or fatty foods where you need more pancreas enzymes to digest them. But many times, frustratingly, for patients, it's not clear why the pancreas gets more inflamed on some days than others.”
The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases notes that both acute and chronic pancreatitis primarily stem from several key factors. The most prevalent triggers include:
Furthermore, pancreatitis can also be provoked by:
Other contributors include:
In some instances, the root cause of pancreatitis remains elusive, a scenario called idiopathic pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis is characterized by intense discomfort. A leading symptom of pancreatitis is pain that strikes the upper left side or middle of the abdomen, according to Penn Medicine. This pain pattern manifests in various ways:
Those with acute pancreatitis tend to look sickly and may experience fever, nausea, vomiting and profuse sweating.
Additional symptoms include:
Dr. Prabhleen Chahal is a pancreas specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. In a clinic article, she said: “Paying close attention to your diet can help ease abdominal pain that accompanies this condition. If you choose your food well, you can give your pancreas a break and help it recover."
Chahal recommends a diet high in protein from lean meats and low in animal fats and simple sugars. She suggests you consume:
Further, those with pancreatitis should avoid these foods:
The Mayo Clinic notes that pancreatitis treatments at the hospital encompass:
Once the inflammation subsides, addressing the root cause will be the focus of your medical team. Treatment may include:
The Cleveland Clinic says that tumors and pancreatitis are the primary reasons for recommending pancreatectomy, a surgical procedure. Different types of pancreas surgeries exist, often tailored to the location of the issue within the fish-like shape of the pancreas: head, body and tail.
Taking charge of your well-being with pancreatitis involves adopting practical self-care measures. By embracing these pancreatitis self-care steps, you can manage the condition and curtail the risk of inflammation:
Navigating life with pancreatitis does mean taking charge and making some proactive choices. NYU Langone Health offers insights to help you be more successful in living with the illness:
By embracing these recommendations, you forge a path toward improved health and an enhanced quality of life while managing pancreatitis.
Better Health Channel: Pancreas
John Hopkins Medicine: Pancreatitis
Cleveland Clinic: Pancreatitis
Cleveland Clinic: Pancreatectomy
Mayo Clinic: Pancreatitis
MedStar Georgetown University Hospital: Symptoms and Causes of Pancreatitis: Dr. Emily Winslow
U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Symptoms & Causes of Pancreatitis
U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
Loma Linda University Health: Pancreas Divisum
Penn Medicine: Pancreatitis
Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials: Best (and Worst) Foods for Pancreatitis Pain
NYU Langone Health: Lifestyle Modifications for Pancreatitis