What are the early symptoms of pancreatitis? How can you know if you have pancreatitis? Here’s a comprehensive guide to keep you in the loop.

The pancreas is a large gland that lies beyond the stomach and connects to the first part of the small intestine. It produces enzymes that help digest food. Insulin and glucagon are also released into the bloodstream by the pancreas.

Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that occurs when digestive enzymes begin digesting the pancreas itself. Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic, and both types can result in complications.

Types of pancreatitis

There are two types of pancreatitis: acute and chronic. The degree of symptoms determines the treatment for each incidence of pancreatitis.

Acute pancreatitis

The start of acute pancreatitis is usually fast, and the inflammation resolves typically within a few days of starting treatment. Adults are twice more likely as children to have acute pancreatitis.

The condition can potentially progress to chronic pancreatitis, especially if you smoke or consume alcohol frequently.

Chronic pancreatitis 

Chronic pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that recurs frequently or occurs over a long period.

Chronic pancreatitis can cause irreversible damage to the pancreatic and other complications — scar tissue forms due to the ongoing inflammation.

What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?

The signs and symptoms of pancreatitis differ according to the underlying cause:

Acute pancreatitis symptoms

Upper abdominal pain is the most prevalent sign of acute pancreatitis. It can range from mild to severe. 

Once the pain begins, it intensifies rapidly, reaching its maximum severity in as little as 30 minutes in many cases. It is common for alcohol-induced pancreatitis to start a few days after a heavy drinking session.

Finding a comfortable position may be tricky. Bending over or laying on your side may help alleviate the discomfort. Other symptoms include:

  • Pain that appears suddenly or develops over a few days.
  • Pain that worsens when you eat
  • Abdominal pain and swelling.
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Fever.
  • A heart rate that is higher than usual.

Patients may report various gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, which might be mistaken for peptic ulcer symptoms. Therefore, it is advisable to consult the best gastroenterologist in the UAE to get a proper diagnosis. 

Chronic pancreatitis 

Some of the symptoms of chronic pancreatitis are the same as those of acute pancreatitis. Additionally, you may develop:

  • Constant, sometimes incapacitating pain that radiates to your back.
  • An unexplained drop in weight.
  • Diarrhea is foamy and has visible oil droplets (steatorrhea).
  • Diabetes (hyperglycemia) occurs when insulin-producing pancreas cells are destroyed.

What causes pancreatitis?

The most common cause of pancreatitis is gallstones. Gallstones are tiny, solid masses that originate from bile, a digestive fluid.

A large enough gallstone can become stuck at the confluence of the main pancreatic duct and the bile duct. These ducts drain into the duodenum, which is the first section of the small intestine.

The pancreatic duct transports digesting enzymes from the pancreas. The common bile duct is responsible for transporting bile and other chemicals from the liver and gallbladder. 

A clogged gallstone can produce a buildup of these chemicals, resulting in inflammation of the common bile duct and the pancreas.

A variety of factors can also contribute to pancreatitis, including:

  • Medications that irritate the pancreas
  • Triglyceride levels are abnormally high (fat in the blood).
  • Infections.
  • Injuries to the abdomen
  • People with metabolic problems like diabetes.
  • Inherited conditions like cystic fibrosis.

How is pancreatitis diagnosed?

Pancreatitis, like other disorders, is often diagnosed through a study of the patient’s medical history and a physical examination. A single test cannot diagnose chronic pancreatitis.

Therefore, the best pancreatitis doctor in Dubai uses a combination of blood tests and imaging studies such as:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, primarily magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography, captures the biliary and pancreatic ducts.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound entails inserting a long, thin tube through the mouth into the small intestine.
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), a procedure in which the bile and pancreatic ducts undergo an X-ray using an endoscope.
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • A fecal fat test can also determine if your stools have a fat content that’s higher than usual.
  • The pancreatic function test, The pancreatic function test, commonly known as the secretin stimulation test, determines if your pancreas reacts effectively to secretin. Secretin is a hormone that stimulates the pancreas to produce fluids that aids in digestion.

How is pancreatitis treated?

Depending on the cause of your pancreatitis, treatment may include:

  • ERCP procedure. This facilitates the diagnosis of the bile duct and pancreatic duct issues and the removal of blockages such as gallstones. 
  • Gallbladder resection. If gallstones are the source of your pancreatitis, your doctor will advise you to have your gallbladder removed.
  • Pancreas procedures. Treatments to drain fluid from your pancreas or remove damaged tissue may necessitate endoscopic procedures.

How can pancreatitis be prevented?

Although pancreatitis can’t be averted, there are measures you may take to lessen your chances of developing it. These include:

  • Alcohol addiction treatment. Pancreatitis can be caused by consuming several alcoholic beverages per day for an extended period. Continued alcohol consumption will aggravate your pancreatitis and lead to severe problems.
  • Changes in medication. If your doctor suspects a drug is causing pancreatitis, he may discontinue it and work with you to identify alternate options.
  • Pain control. Pancreatitis often causes persistent stomach pain. Your doctor will examine you for signs of chronic pancreatitis and may prescribe pain relievers.
  • Enzymes that aid in digestion. Pancreatic enzyme supplements can assist your body break down and utilizing nutrients in foods if you have chronic pancreatitis resulting in diarrhoea or weight loss. 
  • Making dietary changes. Doctors recommend eating low-fat meals high in nutrients.
  • Intravenous (IV) fluids. As your body devotes energy and fluids to repairing your pancreas, you may become dehydrated. For this reason, you’ll receive extra fluids through a vein in your arm.

Pancreatitis can be managed with a healthy lifestyle and, when necessary, medical therapy. It is critical to avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption to lower your risk of pancreatitis and aid in your recovery.

If you experience these symptoms, make it a solid reason to seek expert help and long-term medical care from one of the best gastroenterologists in Dubai

Frequently Asked Questions

Minor acute pancreatitis may heal on its own. Acute and chronic pancreatitis treatments vary based on the cause of the inflammation.

The most prevalent symptom of acute and chronic pancreatitis is upper abdominal pain. The discomfort may start mild and worsen after eating or drinking, then become chronic, severe, and last days.

To rule out acute pancreatitis, your doctor would likely press on your belly and check for low blood pressure, low fever, and a rapid pulse. To diagnose chronic pancreatitis, X-rays or imaging studies like CT scans or MRIs may reveal pancreas damage.

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