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Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is more common in men

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Updated July 23, 2006

Pancreatitis is a serious, potentially life threatening disease in which inflammation causes the pancreatic enzymes to digest itself. Because of its location inflammation can spread easily and quickly to the surrounding area and its organs.
There are two stages of the disease in which an acute stage pancreatitis can sometimes goes on to become a chronic illness.

Function of the pancreas
The pancreas is a gland that lies behind the stomach. Its role is to produce hormones that control the body’s use of sugar, insulin and glucagons, and to secrete digestive juices, enzymes and sodium bicarbonate, into the small intestine. It is the functions that are affected by the inflammation. 

Causes of pancreatitis
The causes of pancreatitis are not fully understood but it is usually caused by gall stones or alcohol abuse. Gallstones can block the drainage of enzymes from the pancreas causing a build up resulting in inflammation and damage. Alcohol affects the pancreas in a number of negative ways, (it causes protein plugs to block outflow, increases duct permeability and the accumulation of digestive enzymes), all of which damage this vital organ.

Other less common causes include:

  • Some medications such as methyldopa, NSAIDs, tetracyclines and corticosteroids

  • Peptic ulcer disease

  • Cancer of the pancreas

  • Trauma to the abdomen or back

  • Viral infections such as mumps, hepatitis, rubella.

  • Scorpion or snake bites
  • People more prone to pancreatitis
    Pancreatitis affects over 80000 Americans a year. African Americans aged between 35-64 years are 10 times more at risk than any other group. More men than women have chronic pancreatitis.

    Symptoms of pancreatitis

  • Pain in the stomach area that radiates to the back

  • Nausea and/or vomiting

  • Fever

  • Breathing difficulties

  • Shock

  • Weight loss

  • Symptoms of sugar diabetes
  • Treatment for pancreatitis
    Treatment will obviously depend on the symptoms and the severity of the pancreatitis. Admission to hospital is often required to support and monitor the patient during the initial stages. When the condition is life threatening intensive care will be needed. Fluid balance, a period with no nutrition by mouth, antibiotics, strong analgesics, oxygen even surgery are treatment options for the person with pancreatitis.

    Prognosis for pancreatitis
    As pancreatitis can recur education to manage and maximise well being will be very important. If the cause of the pancreatitis is alcohol then all drinking must stop. If gallstones led to pancreatitis then removal of the gallbladder is the best way to avoid future recurrences. If the gall bladder is not removed then fatty foods should be avoided.

    Article Sources Include: NHS Direct, University of Pittsberg Medical Center, BBC Health, Womenshealth About.com

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