Friday, July 15, 2016

Pancreatitis: Acute and Chronic

The pancreas is a large gland behind your stomach that lies next to your small intestine.  The pancreas has two main functions in your body, including:

Ø  Releasing powerful digestive enzymes into the small intestine to aid in the digestion of the food you eat.
Ø  Releasing the hormones insulin and glucagon into your bloodstream to aid your body in controlling how it uses food for energy.

If you are diagnosed with pancreatitis, it is a condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed.  Damage and inflammation to the pancreas occurs when the digestive enzymes are activated before they are released into the small intestine, which causes them to begin attacking the pancreas itself.  There are two forms of pancreatitis: acute and chronic, as described below.

Ø  Acute Pancreatitis.  This is a sudden inflammation that lasts only for a short time.  You may experience anything from mild discomfort to a severe, life-threatening illness.  Most people with this type completely recover after they receive the correct treatment.  In more severe cases, this type can result in bleeding into the pancreas, serious tissue damage, infection and/or formation of a cyst.  Other vital organs such as the heart, lungs and kidneys may also be affected if the pancreatitis is severe enough.

Ø  Chronic Pancreatitis.  This is a long-lasting inflammation of the pancreas.  Most generally this will happen after an episode of acute pancreatitis.  Heavy alcohol drinking is a huge risk factor for development of this condition.  Damage to the pancreas from heavy alcohol use may not cause symptoms for many years, but then the person may suddenly develop severe symptoms.

Now let’s move on to what symptoms to be aware of if you think you or a loved one is experiencing pancreatitis.  The symptoms of acute pancreatitis may include the following:

Ø  Pain in the upper abdominal area that radiates around into the back; this pain may be aggravated by eating…especially if you eat foods high in fat.
Ø  Swollen and tender abdomen.
Ø  Nausea and vomiting.
Ø  Fever.
Ø  Increased heart rate.

The symptoms of chronic pancreatitis are similar to those of acute pancreatitis.  With the chronic form, individuals will complain of frequent, constant pain in the upper abdomen that radiates into the back.  In some individuals this pain may be completely disabling.  Other symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include weight loss caused by poor absorption of the nutrients in the food you eat due to the compromised digestive enzymes in your pancreas from damage and inflammation.  In addition to all this, diabetes may develop if the cells that produce insulin in the pancreas also become damaged.

The causes and factors that place individuals more at risk of pancreatitis will vary from one person to the next.  However in most cases, acute pancreatitis is caused by having gallstones (stones in the gallbladder) or heavy consumption of alcohol.  There can be other causes and factors that place individuals more at risk such as taking certain medications, having infections, being a victim of trauma, having certain metabolic disorders, and recent surgery. 

In greater than half of those diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis, the cause is long-term alcohol use.  Other causes and factors that place individuals more at risk then may include gallstones, hereditary disorders of the pancreas, cystic fibrosis, high triglycerides, and taking certain medications. 

To be diagnosed with pancreatitis your medical provider with measure the levels of two digestive enzymes in your blood, amylase and lipase.  If the levels are increased, pancreatitis will be strongly suggested.  Other diagnostic tests to be aware of may include:

Ø  Pancreatic function test to determine if your pancreas is making the correct amount of digestive enzymes.
Ø  Glucose tolerance test to determine what damage, if any, has been done to the pancreatic cells that make insulin.
Ø  Ultrasound, CT scan, and MRI…these tests will provide various images of the pancreas so that any potential problems can be visualized.
Ø  An ERCP which is an x-ray test performed to look at the pancreatic and bile ducts.
Ø  A biopsy may be completed to remove a small tissue sample from the pancreas to allow for further examination.

Once you are diagnosed, stabilized and return to your home the professionals at Total Home Health will be eager to take your care into their hands.  Total Home Health has a program for you and your pancreatitis treatment regimen.  Your treatment course will depend upon the extent to which your pancreas is affected and what other problem(s) the condition is posing to your health.

Treatment for acute pancreatitis generally involves receiving intravenous (IV) fluids and pain medications while in the hospital setting.  If the pancreatitis is severe enough, surgery may even be necessary in order to remove the dead or damaged tissue if an infection were to develop.  An acute attack of pancreatitis usually just lasts a few days.  If the acute attack was caused by gallstones, treatment may require removal of the gallbladder or surgery on the bile duct.  Once the gallstones are removed and the inflammation in the pancreas goes away, the pancreas will usually return to normal.  

Treatment for chronic pancreatitis can be difficult.  Medical providers will do their best to relieve any pain and improve nutrition problems while managing any other symptoms.  Those with the chronic form are usually treated with pancreatic enzymes; they may need insulin, and/or a low-fat diet.  Surgical interventions may also be used in the chronic form to try to restore any function of the pancreas as possible.

Along with all medical providers, Total Home Health professionals agree that in order to feel your best and reduce pancreatitis attacks it is definitely in your best interest to stop smoking and drinking alcohol.  Plus, you should strive to do your best to follow all dietary and medication instructions in order to have fewer and/or more mild attacks.  Total Home Health has a program that is right for you and your diagnosis of pancreatitis.  Our professionals will always provide you with the most up to date information on your condition, and work to create the best treatment regimen for you to follow that meshes well with your everyday routine. 

The focus of our professionals will be to promote your health and prevent pancreatitis from controlling your life.  We will work with your wishes in mind to develop a diet and medication regimen that will be the best for you so that if there is another pancreatitis attack it will be less painful and happen later…rather than sooner.  Don’t wait any longer; enroll with Total Home Health today so that your health will be in the hands of those who care 24/7/365. 

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