What are the Signs of Pancreatitis?

Pancreas puzzle concept (3d rendering): hands of surgeon with surgical instruments (tools) perform pancreas surgery as a result of acute or chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic diabetes, pancreatic cancer; blog: What are the Signs of Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is an organ in the digestive system that sits behind the stomach, near the small intestines. It is responsible for releasing digestive enzymes and helps regulate how the body handles glucose. It’s important to know the signs of pancreatitis because the condition may cause serious complications.

About Pancreatitis

The symptoms and signs of pancreatitis and their severity depend on whether the condition is acute or chronic.

  • Acute Pancreatitis: Acute pancreatitis occurs suddenly. Symptoms appear suddenly and may also change or worsen rapidly. People with acute pancreatitis usually feel and look very ill and should seek medical care immediately. 
  • Chronic Pancreatitis: Chronic pancreatitis is a condition that develops and gets worse over an extended time period. Chronic pancreatitis may cause long term complications like diabetes

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), acute pancreatitis is more common than chronic pancreatitis. Each year about 275,000 hospital stays for acute pancreatitis occur in the US, but chronic pancreatitis only results in about 86,000 hospital stays per year.

The most common causes of both types of pancreatitis are:

  • Gallstones
  • Genetic disorders of the pancreas
  • Certain medications
  • Heavy alcohol consumption

Other things that may cause pancreatitis include infections, abdominal injuries, and pancreatic cancer.

Signs of Pancreatitis

1. Abdominal Pain

One of the main signs of pancreatitis is pain in the upper abdomen that may also spread to the back. In acute pancreatitis, the pain can begin either suddenly or slowly and can range from mild to severe. 

People with acute pancreatitis may experience pain for several days. People with chronic pancreatitis may have pain that goes away as the condition gets worse. However, some people with chronic pancreatitis never have abdominal pain.

2. Nausea And Vomiting

Abdominal pain may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. 

3. Swelling Or Tenderness In The Abdomen

Pancreatitis may cause your abdomen to swell and feel tender. 

4. Bowel Movement Issues

Chronic pancreatitis can cause bowel movements to change or become abnormal. It may cause diarrhea, greasy stools, or foul-smelling stools. 

5. Weight Loss

Chronic pancreatitis may cause weight loss related to other GI symptoms such as frequent diarrhea and vomiting. Chronic pancreatitis may also cause malabsorption and vitamin deficiencies or malnutrition.

6. Fever

Fever is usually a symptom associated with acute pancreatitis rather than chronic pancreatitis. If you have a fever and the other symptoms of pancreatitis, this is a sign that you should seek immediate care.

7. Rapid Heartbeat

A fast heartbeat is a sign of pancreatitis that indicates you should seek medical attention because it could be a sign of serious infection or blockage.

8. Jaundice

Jaundice is another one of the signs of pancreatitis that indicate you should seek medical attention immediately for your condition. It could be a sign of a blockage in the pancreas, gallbladder, bile duct, or pancreatic duct.

Treating Pancreatitis

Treatment for pancreatitis is dictated by whether it is acute or chronic as well as how severe the patient’s symptoms are. 

Acute Pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis usually requires a stay in the hospital,  but mild cases usually only take a few days to clear up with treatment. Treatment may include:

  • IV fluids for dehydration
  • Antibiotics
  • Pain medication
  • Low-fat diet
  • Cholecystectomy
    • The removal of the gallbladder. Used to treat cases caused by gallstones.
  • Procedures to drain fluid from abscesses
  • Procedures to remove damaged tissue from the pancreas
  • Endoscopic cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
    • A treatment that uses an upper GI endoscopy and X-rays to view and treat blockages of the bile or pancreatic duct. 

Chronic Pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis usually requires different treatment than acute pancreatitis so that the condition can be treated over extended periods of time. Treatment and management of chronic pancreatitis may include:

  • Dietary changes and a low-fat diet
  • Eliminating alcohol consumption
  • Medication
    • Digestive enzymes
    • Vitamins for malabsorption
    • Vitamin B-12 shots
  • Treatment for diabetes
  • Surgery to relieve pressure or remove blockages
  • Nerve block injected into the nerves that carry pain messages from the pancreas to the brain
  • Procedures to break up or remove gallstones

If you have symptoms or signs of pancreatitis, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. You may need to see a gastroenterologist for evaluation and treatment. The team at Birmingham Gastroenterology has decades of experience treating diseases and disorders in all parts of the digestive system. This includes helping patients manage pancreatitis and providing treatment with procedures like ECRP.

During this time we are offering telemedical services in order to provide care to patients without coming into the office. To make an appointment to discuss your symptoms and treatment options, call us at (205) 271-8000. 

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