Metabolic Health

Acute Pancreatitis: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatments - Sugar.Fit

Reviewed by

Shifa Fathima

What is Acute Pancreatitis?

Acute pancreatitis is a condition that occurs when there is a sudden inflammation of the pancreas. There are different degrees to which this condition can affect a person. It can be mild or fatal depending on the intensity and when it is diagnosed. However, in most cases, it subsides. Fortunately, the condition does not affect the islet cells which means that the production of insulin is not affected. Since the nature of the condition is ‘acute’ it is not known to cause long-term complications. Only if it turns chronic will the inflammation persist and lead to permanent damage.

What are the Types of Acute Pancreatitis?

  • Mild acute pancreatitis: In this condition, the inflammation in the pancreas is mild. 
  • Severe acute pancreatitis: When the inflammation in pancreas is very severe, it is known severe acute pancreatitis. This can trigger fatal complications if not treated well. 

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Acute Pancreatitis Symptoms

Acute pancreatitis is marked by a sharp pain in the upper abdominal region which ultimately reaches up to back. Other Symptoms include-

  • Sudden pain in the upper abdomen
  • Rarely, pain also starts in the lower abdomen
  • If not controlled, pain starts moving towards the back
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid pulse
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhoea
  • Mild fever 
  • Pain while taking deep breaths or doing vigorous movements
  • Fluctuations in blood pressure which eventually may cause faintness

What are the Symptoms of Severe Acute Pancreatitis?

Different people experience different acute pancreatitis symptoms depending on how aggravated the condition is. Keeping a lookout for even the milder symptoms would be a good idea so that the condition can be treated immediately. 

More severe symptoms would look like:

  1. Pain or tenderness in the abdomen 
  2. Shooting pain that extends to the back
  3. Persistent feelings of nausea and vomiting
  4. Fever and feeling chilly
  5. Rapid heartbeat
  6. Difficulty breathing /shortness of breath
  7. Symptoms of jaundice – yellowing of eyes and skin

Acute Pancreatitis Causes

Acute pancreatitis can occur directly and indirectly. While direct causes affect the pancreas itself, the indirect causes are conditions or diseases that originate somewhere else in the body. Some common reasons for acute pancreatitis usually are as follows: 

  • Alcohol: Consuming alcohol regularly for many years can cause inflammation in the pancreas. 
  • Gallstones: Small stones like structures in the gallbladder can cause blockage in the enzyme secretion duct. The effect of this blockage eventually reaches up to the pancreas and starts causing inflammation.
  • Infections: Several kinds of bacterial and viral infections in the blood can develop acute pancreatitis. 

Some other not so common causes include

  • Injury in the pancreas
  • Abnormal levels of calcium in the blood
  • Excessive triglyceride in the blood
  • Genetic Mutations

Who is at Risk of Acute Pancreatitis?

Some of the Risk Factors for developing Acute Pancreatitis are-

  • Drink too much alcohol
  • Smoke tobacco
  • Have a family history of tumors or any other pancreatic condition
  • Have diagnosed with having gallstones 

There are certain conditions that can lead to developing Acute Pancreatitis.

  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Kawasaki disease
  • Infections like mumps and mycoplasma
  • Reye’s syndrome

How is Acute Pancreatitis Diagnosed?

Acute pancreatitis is diagnosed done by analyzing the symptoms and examining the abdomen. If the doctor finds your symptoms similar to that of acute pancreatitis, and your abdomen shows sensitivity to touch, there are high chances that you have developed acute pancreatitis. 

However, if the doctor is unsure by physical examination, some acute pancreatitis test might be taken. A few common tests are:

  • Blood test: To check the amount of two digestive enzymes called amylase and lipase, doctors take the blood test. High amount of these enzymes indicates acute pancreatitis.  
  • ERCP scan: In this test, a thin tube with a camera is inserted into the digestive system to detect gallstones. 
  • Ultrasound: An ultrasound scan is usually done to have an image of the pancreas and gallbladder. 

Upon the experience of the initial symptoms, ensure that you are getting the appropriate testing and diagnosis for acute pancreatitis to prevent it from reaching the chronic and fatal stage. Different ways and reliable methods are used via which this can be diagnosed. 

  1. Blood test – What one looks for in a blood test for acute pancreatitis are elevated levels of enzymes in the pancreas, the volume of white blood cells, kidney functioning, and the presence of liver enzymes. 
  2. Abdominal ultrasound – This helps to look out for gallstones and inflammation in the pancreas
  3. CT scan – With similar imaging, a computerized tomography scan will help gauge the presence of gallstones and the extent of the pancreatic inflammation
  4. MRI – MRIs help look for abnormalities in the gallbladder, the pancreas, and their ducts
  5. Endoscopic ultrasound – This test for acute pancreatitis can show inflammation and blockages in the pancreatic duct or bile duct
  6. Stool test – For chronic pancreatitis, this test can help measure the levels of fat that would be a strong indicator of how the digestive system and the absorption process are working.

Acute Pancreatitis Treatment

Unlike other common diseases, Acute Pancreatitis cure needs extra care. If someone is diagnosed with the conditions, the following steps are done to treat the condition:

  • Treatment starts with the hospitalization
  • You may be admitted to take tests and given intravenous fluid. 
  • Medicines are given to lower the chances of any infection and reduce pain. 
  • If medications don’t work, surgery might be done to remove the damaged part of the organ or remove gallstones. 
  • It is vital to get proper and timely care along with acute pancreatitis treatment to alleviate the pain and prevent the symptoms from reaching an extent of discomfort and problems. There are several methods via which one can opt to treat the symptoms:
  • Early eating – Nutrition is important and the need to stay hungry for the pancreas to heal is no longer necessary. As the inflammation reduces, begin replenishing your body with clear liquids and bland food. A nutrition tube would also be a good idea in case the symptoms persist.
  • Pain meds – Acute pancreatitis is known to cause sharp and stabbing pain. Pain medication and pain management can go a long way to help the person feel physically and mentally better.
  • IV fluids – The energy from the body would be dedicated to repairing the pancreas causing dehydration. IV fluids would help with restoring the electrolyte and water imbalance.
  • Other treatments like surgical procedures (gallbladder surgery, pancreas procedures, etc) can also be undertaken depending on the severity of the symptoms and response to treatment.

How can Acute Pancreatitis be Prevented?

By following healthy eating and drinking habits. Some of the prevention measures you can take to keep a check on acute pancreatitis are -

  • Drinking water regularly can reduce the chances of having pancreas infection. 
  • Take alcohol in a limited amount. If you are diagnosed with acute pancreatitis, you should stop taking alcohol altogether. 
  • Eat a low-fat diet. 
  • Perform regular exercise and lose excess weight
  • Quit smoking

FAQs

1. How long does Acute Pancreatitis last?

Most people with this condition experience relief within a week or so from the commencement of the symptoms. They can also leave the hospital after a few days. However, there might be a longer period of recovery in severe and chronic conditions or when people develop complications 

2. Can Acute Pancreatitis be Cured?

Yes, acute pancreatitis can be cured and the symptoms can be managed with the help of pain meds, surgery (if needed), electrolytes and IV fluids, proper nutrition, hospitalization, etc. 

3. Can you drink Alcohol in Moderation after Acute Pancreatitis?

Since alcohol can have dramatic effects on the liver and kidneys, which work closely in tandem with the pancreas, it should be avoided for at least 6 months after the diagnosis and treatment of acute pancreatitis. This should be followed even if the pancreatitis was not caused by excess alcohol.

4. Can Acute Pancreatitis cause Diabetes?

Pancreatitis, acute or chronic, can create havoc within the internal functioning and running of the pancreas. Repeated bouts of this condition can damage the pancreas leading to chronic pancreatitis and the formation of scar tissue. This can eventually result in a loss of function. The poorly functioning pancreas can cause severe issues in the digestion process and can also lead to diabetes. 

5. What can you eat with Acute Pancreatitis?

For a healthy and well-functioning pancreas, during and post-acute pancreatitis, you can focus on foods that are rich in protein and low in animal fats. Additionally, food items containing antioxidants like beans, lentils, clear soups, and almond milk should also be consumed. Ensure to have good fruits and vegetables along with whole grains. 

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