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What Is Pancreatitis

QUESTION: What Is Pancreatitis?


Pancreatitis may be acute, short-term with sudden onset or it may be chronic. Acute pancreatitis is usually resolved after a few days. It is accompanied by severe pain in the upper abdomen which may radiate to the back. The belly may be swollen and tender. In severe cases there may be other symptoms such as vomiting and nausea, chills and/or rapid heartbeat. There may also be lethargy, fatigue and disorientation.

Chronic pancreatitis may not be accompanied by severe pain. If there is severe pain it is usually totally debilitating. The lack of pain is not a good sign however as it signals extreme conditions such as total dysfunction of the organ. This may mean that the pancreas is no longer producing insulin which is the major cause of diabetes. It may mean that the liver has been severely damaged causing the yellowing of the skin (jaundice) or that fats are no longer being properly absorbed manifested by weight loss.

Most cases of pancreatitis are caused by alcoholism and gall stones. Pancreatitis caused by alcoholism is more common in males who have a history of alcoholic abuse. In the case of gall stones, a build-up of material in the gall bladder has produced a "stone" which may block the pancreatic duct thus causing that "digesting" of the pancreas itself. This is more often seen in females. Other causes may be injury to the organ, medication, or inherited anomalies.

Persons suffering from the acute pain of pancreatitis should seek medical help immediately, especially if non-prescription medication has not relieved the symptoms. Often a change in diet may help to relieve the symptoms. This would include smaller, more frequent meals high in carbohydrates and low in fats. A liquid diet of broth and gelatin may also help produce temporary relief. Of course, chronic pancreatitis will require long-term care for treatment of such ailments as diabetes or liver disease. The main treatment will include a change in lifestyle for those with alcohol abuse problems or poor diet.

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