When your pancreas is inflamed you have pancreatitis. The pancreas is located behind the stomach close to the duodenum at the upper small intestine and is a large gland. Digestive enzymes are secreted by the pancreas into the small intestine through the pancreatic duct. The proteins, fats and carbohydrates in foods are digested by these enzymes. Glucagon and insulin are released into the bloodstream by the pancreas and is a very important function of the pancreas.
When all is running normally the enzymes are not active until they enter the small intestine. Sometimes the enzymes become active in the pancreas. These enzymes actually try to digest the pancreas.
Chronic pancreatitis will not go away on its own and will result in the destruction of the pancreas. Acute pancreatitis us a short term, suddenly occurring attach that usually resolves itself. But either condition can result in complications that are serious. Such complications include bleeding, infection and tissue damage. The accumulation of tissue debris and fluids may turn into pseudocysts. Also toxins and enzymes have a chance to enter the bloodstream and may cause harm to the kidneys, lungs, heart and other organs.
Gallstones are normally the cause of acute pancreatitis as well as over indulging in alcohol consumption. But these are not the only causes of acute pancreatitis. Symptoms of acute pancreatitis include upper abdominal pain that lasts for a few days. The pain could be severe and constant in the abdomen or even in areas of the back. Other times the pain may be intense and sudden beginning mildly and worsening when food is consumed. Other symptoms include tender and swollen abdomen, nausea, vomiting, fever and rapid pulse.
Acute pancreatitis can cause dehydration and low blood pressure. A sever case may cause the failure of the heart, kidneys or lungs. Shock and death may be a result if there is bleeding in the pancreas.
Blood tests help to diagnosis if you may have acute pancreatitis. If you are in an acute attack your amylase and lipase levels will be three times higher than normal or even higher. Lipase and amylase are the enzymes in the pancreas. Other blood levels that may be affected include calcium, glucose, magnesium, bicarbonate, potassium and sodium. Sometimes you may undergo a CAT or abdominal ultrasound to look for gallstones or other inflammation of the pancreas.
If there are not complications in the lungs or kidneys the pancreatitis will usually resolve itself on its own. Otherwise treatment may include admission to the hospital to have necessary fluid levels replaced through an IV. If pseudocysts develop and are the size to interfere with the healing process of the pancreas they may be drained or surgically removed.
An attack that is acute and where the pancreatic or bile duct is not blocked by gallstones will usually last only a few days. Sever cases may require IV feeding for three to six weeks to help the slow healing process of the pancreas. This treatment is called parenteral nutrition. If you have a very mild case of pancreatitis then parenteral nutrition is usually of no benefit.
If you were admitted to the hospital upon discharge you will be advised not to consume alcohol or eat large meals. When all symptoms of the acute attack are gone the physician can then try to determine the cause. This will help to prevent future attacks. Sometimes when the cause is unclear more tests will be required.
Complications of acute pancreatitis can include breathing problems including hypoxia. Hypoxia is a condition where the tissues and cells of your body do not receive adequate oxygen. If infection results then surgery may be required to remove any damaged pancreatic tissue.