What Is Pancreatitis?
What Are the Risk Factors for Pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis can happen to anyone, but it is more common in people with certain risk factors.
Risk factors of acute pancreatitis include:
- Heavy alcohol drinking
Acute pancreatitis may be the first sign of gallstones. Gallstones can block the pancreatic duct, which causes acute pancreatitis.
Risk factors for chronic pancreatitis include:
- Heavy alcohol drinking for a long time
- Certain hereditary conditions, such as cystic fibrosis
- Conditions such as high triglycerides and lupus
People with chronic pancreatitis are usually men between the ages of 30 and 40, but chronic pancreatitis may occur in women as well.
How Is Pancreatitis Diagnosed?
To diagnose acute pancreatitis, doctors measure levels in the blood of two digestive enzymes, amylase and lipase. High levels of these two enzymes strongly suggest acute pancreatitis.
Doctors may also use other tests, such as:
- Pancreatic function test to find out if the pancreas is making the right amounts of digestive enzymes
- Glucose tolerance test to measure damage to the cells in the pancreas that make insulin
- Ultrasound and CT scan, which make images of the pancreas so that problems may be seen
- ERCP to look at the pancreatic and bile ducts using X-rays
- Biopsy, in which a needle is inserted into the pancreas to remove a small tissue sample for study
In more advanced stages of the disease, doctors may use blood, urine, and stool tests to confirm the diagnosis.
How Is Pancreatitis Treated?
Treatment for acute pancreatitis
People with acute pancreatitis are treated with IV fluids and pain medications in the hospital. In up to 25% of patients, the pancreatitis can be severe and patients may need to be admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU). In the ICU, the patient is closely watched because pancreatitis can damage the heart, lungs, or kidneys. Some cases of severe pancreatitis can result in death of pancreatic tissue. In these cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the dead or damaged tissue if an infection develops.
An acute attack of pancreatitis usually lasts a few days. An acute attack of pancreatitis caused by gallstones may require removal of the gallbladder or surgery of the bile duct. After the gallstones are removed and the inflammation goes away, the pancreas usually returns to normal.
Treatment for chronic pancreatitis
Chronic pancreatitis can be difficult to treat. Doctors will try to relieve the patient's pain and improve the nutrition problems. Patients are generally given pancreatic enzymes or insulin. A low-fat diet may also help.
Surgery may help relieve abdominal pain, restore drainage of pancreatic enzymes or hormones, treat chronic pancreatitis caused by blockage of the pancreatic duct, or reduce the frequency of attacks.
Patients must stop smoking and drinking alcoholic beverages, follow their doctor's and dietitian's dietary advice, and take the proper medications in order to have fewer and milder attacks of pancreatitis.