What is pancreatitis?

The pancreas is part of the digestive system, producing enzymes that get used in the nearby small intestine to help break down food. It is also responsible for producing certain hormones that help our bodies regulate blood sugar. Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, is a condition in which the enzymes start attacking and cause damage to the pancreas. This may occur as a result of long-term overuse of alcohol or it may occur because of gallstones, which may be blocking the biliary duct and causing inflammation and infection.

Pancreatitis is sometimes caused by other factors, such as:

  • Certain infections, such as measles, mumps, rubella
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Trauma to the abdomen
  • Tumors

The condition may be acute (comes on suddenly and goes away) or it may be chronic, lasting for several years.

Symptoms of pancreatitis

One of the most common symptoms of pancreatitis is pain in the upper abdomen that may spread to the back. In many cases, this pain is aggravated when you eat something that is high in fat. Other symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Swollen or tender abdomen
  • Vomiting

Diagnosis and testing for pancreatitis

In order to diagnose your condition, your doctor will review your medical history and perform a physical exam. Certain tests may be ordered, such as a CT scan, abdominal ultrasound, or magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP). If gallstones are causing the problem, you may undergo surgical removal of the gallbladder, called cholecystectomy. You may also need to be admitted to the hospital and given medication and fluids to help fight pain and infection.

If you are experiencing symptoms that are concerning you, be sure to see a doctor right away. Pancreatitis is a serious condition that needs medical attention.



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