Pancreatitis is a serious disorder in which the pancreas becomes inflamed. The pancreas is responsible for producing hormones and digestive enzymes to process glucose. If the enzymes begin activating in the pancreas instead of the stomach–which can happen for a myriad of reasons–the cells of the pancreas become inflamed. Here’s a look at how to treat that inflammation.
Pancreatitis can be chronic (long, slow onset) or acute (sudden onset). The signs of chronic pancreatitis include severe upper abdominal pain, oily or black stools, and unintended weight loss. Acute pancreatitis may include a sudden fever, rapid heartbeat, and nausea or vomiting.
The hospital’s first steps to reduce inflammation will likely be to start intravenous fluids and pain medication and have you stop eating. By not eating the pancreas is not required to produce its hormones and enzymes. In this way, it gets a rest from its normal production and the cells can begin to relax.
It may take a few days or weeks for your pancreas to return to normal. If it only takes a few days, you may be able to begin introducing clear liquids and then bland solids slowly back into your diet fairly soon. If it takes a few weeks, you may need to get all of your nutrition through a tube until that happens.
Treating the Cause
Once your pancreas has returned to normal, it’s time to treat whatever is causing the pancreatitis, assuming this is diagnosable. There are many things that can cause pancreatitis from genetics, to hypertriglyceridemia, to cystic fibrosis. Because of the great many causes of pancreatitis, there are a great many potential treatments. The most common causes of pancreatitis are biliary tract disease, alcoholism, and blockages of the ducts in the pancreas, so this article will focus most closely on those treatments.
Biliary tract diseases generally affect the gallbladder. Among the most common of those issues is gallbladder stones. These stones cannot only be painful, they may begin to block passages in the abdomen. Most sources recommend gallstones be removed during your initial hospital stay.
A cholecystectomy is a surgical procedure to remove not just gallstones but the whole gallbladder. Ideally, this will prevent future instances of pancreatitis, particularly as frequent instances of acute pancreatitis can ultimately cause chronic pancreatitis. Other biliary tract diseases need to be taken care of according to the problem at hand.
Pancreatitis as a result of excessive alcohol consumption occurs most often as a result of at least 5 years of heavy drinking. The ethanol in alcohol creates a cellular reaction resulting in pancreatitis. To really treat alcoholic pancreatitis, it is necessary to treat the alcoholism. While initial flushing of the system may help, returning to frequent drinking may cause a relapse. As such, the most effective method of treatment is to find a form of rehabilitation that best suits the patient, whether this is an inpatient rehabilitation center or weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Other Surgical Options
Pancreatitis can sometimes be the result of a duct in the pancreatic system becoming narrowed or completely blocked. There are a variety of procedures to dilate or unblock these bile ducts, depending upon the specific circumstances. Other forms of pancreatic surgery may necessary as well; for example, it may be necessary to drain built up fluid or remove damaged or necrotic tissue. In any case, pancreatitis should always be considered a medical emergency and treated immediately.