Chronic pancreatitis: Treatments, symptoms, and causes

Chronic pancreatitis is an inflammation of your pancreas that doesn’t improve over time.

Alt text = Chronic pancreatitis
Chronic pancreatitis

The pancreas is an organ located behind your stomach. It makes enzymes, which are special proteins that help digest your food. It also makes hormones that control the level of sugar in your bloodstream.

Particularly, Pancreatitis occurs when your pancreas becomes inflamed. Pancreatitis is acute when the inflammation comes on suddenly and only lasts for a short period of time. It becomes chronic when it keeps coming back or when the inflammation doesn’t heal for months or years.

Generally, chronic pancreatitis can lead to permanent scarring and damage. Calcium stones and cysts may develop in your pancreas, which can block the duct, or tube, that carries digestive enzymes and juices to your stomach. The blockage may lower the levels of pancreatic enzymes and hormones, which will make it harder for your body to digest food and regulate your blood sugar. This can cause serious health problems, including malnutrition and diabetes.

Causes of Chronic pancreatitis

There are numerous different causes of chronic pancreatitis. The most common cause is long-term alcohol abuse. Particularly the cause of pancreatitis is alcohol consumption.

Autoimmune disease occurs when your body mistakenly attacks your healthy cells and tissues. Inflammatory bowel syndrome, which is inflammation of the digestive tract, and primary biliary cholangitis. Which is a chronic liver disease as with chronic pancreatitis.

Other causes include:

  • autoimmune disease, which occurs when your body mistakenly attacks your healthy cells and tissues
  • a narrow pancreatic duct, which is the tube that carries enzymes from the pancreas to the small intestine
  • a blockage of the pancreatic duct by either gallstones or pancreatic stones
  • cystic fibrosis, which is a hereditary disease that causes mucus to build up in your lungs
  • genetics
  • high blood levels of calcium, which is called hypercalcemia
  • (hypertriglyceridemia) a high level of triglyceride fats in your blood

Who is at Risk for getting Chronic pancreatitis?

Abusing alcohol increases your risk of developing chronic pancreatitis. Smoking increases the risk of pancreatitis among alcoholics. In some cases, a family history of chronic pancreatitis can increase your risk.

Chronic pancreatitis most frequently develops in people between the ages of 30 and 40. The condition is also more common among men than women.

Children living in tropical regions of Asia and Africa may be at risk for developing tropical pancreatitis, which is another type of chronic pancreatitis. The exact cause of tropical pancreatitis is unknown, but it may be related to malnutrition.

To inspire you to exercise and eat a healthy diet.

Symptoms of Chronic pancreatitis

At first, you may not notice any symptoms. Changes in your pancreas can become quite advanced before you begin to feel unwell. When symptoms occur, they may include:

  • stomach pain generally on the upper side
  • diarrhea
  • fatty stools, which are loose, pale, and don’t flush away easily
  • nausea and vomiting
  • shortness of breath
  • unexplained weight loss
  • excessive thirst and fatigue

You may experience more severe symptoms as the disease progresses, such as:

  • pancreatic fluids in your abdomen
  • jaundice, which is characterized by a yellowish discoloration in your eyes and skin
  • internal bleeding
  • intestinal blockage

Painful episodes can last for hours or even days. Some people find that eating or drinking can make their pain worse. As the disease progresses, the pain may become constant.

Diagnosis of Chronic pancreatitis

During the early stages of chronic pancreatitis, changes in your pancreas are difficult to see in blood tests. For this reason, blood tests typically aren’t used to diagnose the disease. However, they may be used to determine the number of pancreatic enzymes in your blood. Blood tests may also check blood cell counts along with kidney and liver function. Your doctor might ask you for a stool sample to test for levels of fat. Fatty stools could be a sign that your body isn’t absorbing nutrients correctly.

Imaging tests are the most reliable way for your doctor to make a diagnosis. Your doctor might request that the following examination of your abdomen look for signs of inflammation:

Your doctor may also recommend an endoscopic ultrasound. Your doctor inserts a long, flexible tube into your mouth and down through the stomach and small intestine during an endoscopic ultrasound. The tube contains an ultrasound probe, which emits sound waves that create detailed images of your pancreas.

Treatment of Chronic pancreatitis

Treatment for chronic pancreatitis focuses on reducing your pain and improving your digestive function. The damage to your pancreas can’t be undone, but with the proper care, you should be able to manage many of your symptoms. Treatment for pancreatitis can include medication, endoscopic therapies, or surgery.

Medications

Possible medications that your doctor may prescribe for chronic pancreatitis include:

  • pain medication
  • artificial digestive enzymes if your enzyme levels are too low to digest food normally
  • insulin if you have diabetes
  • steroids if you have autoimmune pancreatitis, which occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your pancreas

Endoscopy

Some treatments use an endoscope to reduce pain and get rid of blockages. An endoscope is a long, flexible tube that your doctor inserts through your mouth. It allows your doctor to remove pancreatic stones, place small tubes called stents to improve flow, and close leaks.

Surgery

Surgery is not necessary for most people. However, if you have severe pain that isn’t responding to medication, removing part of your pancreas can sometimes provide relief. Surgery may unblock your pancreatic duct, drain cysts, or widen it if it’s too narrow.

It’s important to avoid alcohol after you’ve been diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis, even if alcohol wasn’t the cause of your illness. You should also avoid smoking because it can increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer. You may need to limit the amount of fat in your diet and take vitamins.

Complications of Chronic pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis has the potential to cause numerous complications. You’re at greater risk of developing complications if you continue to drink alcohol after you’ve been diagnosed.

Nutrient malabsorption is one of the most common complications. Since your pancreas isn’t producing enough digestive enzymes, your body isn’t absorbing nutrients properly. This can lead to malnutrition.

The development of diabetes is another possible complication. Pancreatitis damages the cells that produce insulin and glucagon, which are the hormones that control the amount of sugar in your blood. This can lead to an increase in blood sugar levels. About 45 percent of people with chronic pancreatitis will get diabetes.

Some people will also develop pseudocysts, which are fluid-filled growths that can form inside or outside of your pancreas. Pseudocysts are dangerous because they can block important ducts and blood vessels. They may become infected in some cases.

Overview

The overview depends on the severity and underlying cause of the disease. Other factors can affect your chances of recovery, including your age at diagnosis and whether you continue to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes.

Prompt diagnosis and treatment can improve the outlook. Call your doctor right away if you notice any symptoms of pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis Diet

  • Foods to eat
  • Limit to the foods
  • Recovery diet
  • Causes
  • Treatment

What is Pancreatitis?

Your pancreas helps you regulate the way that your body processes sugar. It also serves an important function in releasing enzymes and helping you digest food.

When your pancreas becomes swollen or inflamed, it cannot perform its function. This condition is called pancreatitis.

Because the pancreas is so closely tied to your digestive process, it’s affected by what you choose to eat. In cases of acute pancreatitis, pancreas inflammation is often triggered by gallstones.

But in cases of chronic pancreatitis, in which flare-ups recur over time, your diet might have a lot to do with the problem. Researchers are finding out more about foods you can eat to protect and even help to heal your pancreas.

Diet in Chronic pancreatitis

To get your pancreas healthy, focus on foods that are rich in protein, low in animal fats, and contain antioxidants. Try lean meats, beans and lentils, clear soups, and dairy alternatives (such as flax milk and almond milk). Your pancreas won’t have to work as hard to process these.

Research suggests that some people with pancreatitis can tolerate up to 30 to 40% of calories from fat when it’s from whole-food plant sources or medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Others do better with much lower fat intake, such as 50 grams or less per day.

Spinach, blueberries, cherries, and whole grains can work to protect your digestion and fight the free radicals that damage your organs.

If you’re craving something sweet, reach for fruit instead of added sugars since those with pancreatitis are at high risk for diabetes.

Consider cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and hummus, and fruit as your go-to snacks. Your pancreas will thank you.

Food to avoid in Chronic pancreatitis

Foods to limit include:

  • red meat
  • organ meats
  • fried foods
  • fries and potato chips
  • mayonnaise
  • margarine and butter
  • full-fat dairy
  • pastries and desserts with added sugars
  • beverages with added sugars

If you’re trying to combat pancreatitis, avoid trans-fatty acids in your diet.

Fried or heavily processed foods, like french fries and fast-food hamburgers, are some of the worst offenders. Organ meats, full-fat dairy, potato chips, and mayonnaise also top the list of foods to limit.

Cooked or deep-fried foods might trigger a flare-up of pancreatitis. You’ll also want to cut back on the refined flour found in cakes, pastries, and cookies. These foods can tax the digestive system by causing your insulin levels to spike.

Recovery Diet for Chronic pancreatitis

If you’re recovering from acute or chronic pancreatitis, avoid drinking alcohol. If you smoke, you’ll also need to quit. Focus on eating a low-fat diet that won’t tax or inflame your pancreas.

You should also stay hydrated. Keep an electrolyte beverage or a bottle of water with you at all times.

If you’ve been hospitalized due to a pancreatitis flare-up, your doctor will probably refer you to a dietitian to help you learn how to change your eating habits permanently.

People with chronic pancreatitis often experience malnutrition due to their decreased pancreas function. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are most commonly found to be lacking as a result of pancreatitis.

Diet tips

Always check with your doctor or dietician before changing your eating habits when you have pancreatitis. Here are some tips they might suggest:

  • Eat between six and eight small meals throughout the day to help recover from pancreatitis. This is easier on your digestive system than eating two or three large meals.
  • Use MCTs as your primary fat since this type of fat does not require pancreatic enzymes to be digested. MCTs can be found in coconut oil and palm kernel oil and is available at most health food stores.
  • Avoid eating too much fiber at once, as this can slow digestion and result in less-than-ideal absorption of nutrients from food. Fiber may also make your limited amount of enzymes less effective.
  • Take a multivitamin supplement to ensure that you’re getting the nutrition you need.

Causes of Chronic pancreatitis

The most common cause of chronic pancreatitis is drinking too much alcohol, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Pancreatitis can also be genetic, or the symptom of an autoimmune reaction. In many cases of acute pancreatitis, the condition is triggered by a blocked bile duct or gallstones.

Alternative treatments of Chronic pancreatitis

If your pancreas has been damaged by pancreatitis, a change in your diet will help you feel better. But it might not be enough to restore the function of the pancreas completely.

Your doctor may prescribe supplemental or synthetic pancreatic enzymes for you to take with every meal.

If you’re still experiencing pain from chronic pancreatitis, consider alternative therapy such as yoga or acupuncture to supplement your doctor’s prescribed pancreatitis treatment.

Endoscopic ultrasound or surgery might be recommended as the next course of action if your pain continues.

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