The pancreas is an important organ located next to the stomach. It is important for producing insulin, glucagon, regulating blood sugar, and secreting digestive enzymes to help break down food in the intestine. These roles are vital in helping the body properly process the foods you eat. When the pancreas is unable to function properly, major problems will occur. Pancreatitis is a condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed, disrupting its proper function. It can be acute or chronic, but it is a serious issue and a doctor should be consulted immediately.
Acute pancreatitis can be caused gallstones, heavy alcohol consumption, medications, infections. Due to its location, the inflamed pancreas will cause a severe pain in the middle of the torso and extends to the back. When inflamed, eating and digestion are severely disrupted, and the patient may experience nausea, vomiting, and fever. A rapid pulse may occur due to dehydration, pain, and low blood pressure.
Basic lab work must be done in the hospital, including a complete blood count to look for infections or anemia. Additional lab work includes a comprehensive metabolic panel that evaluates the liver, kidney, and vitamin levels. There are specific digestive enzymes, such as amylase and lipase that will be checked on a daily basis until symptoms improve.
Pancreatitis must be treated in the hospital with an IV for dehydration, antibiotics for possible infection, and pain medication. Patients are unable to eat solid foods for several days, so a feeding tube might be necessary temporarily. Once the vomiting and pain are under control, the patient will placed on a trial of clear liquids such as Jello, Gatorade, and broth. From there, simple foods like bananas, apples, and white rice may be tried. It can take about 2 weeks for people to resume eating all of their regular, solid foods.
Pancreatitis is a serious condition that may cause severe complications or death when left untreated. Talk with your doctor or go to the emergency department right away if you have abdominal pain, vomiting, elevated pulse, or severe pain.
Written by Kevin Lin, University of Texas-Austin, Pre-medical student
Reviewed by Muhammad Emran, MD