We hear so much about the role of insulin in keeping us healthy. But are you aware of the organ that releases insulin? It is the pancreas!
Pancreas, located in the abdomen, releases juices and enzymes that aid in digestion. It produces insulin to control blood sugar and releases glucagon when the blood sugar level is very low. Healthy pancreas is thus, essential for a good digestive system and to keep blood sugar levels under control. The common pancreas diseases mainly include acute and chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic cysts, pancreatic fluid collection, tumours and pancreatic cancer. Diabetes mellitus is also a condition related to the pancreas.
What Causes Pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis is the inflammation of pancreas accompanied with nausea, vomiting, bloating or indigestion and fever. The pancreatitis pain location is very typical and is felt in the upper abdomen. Its symptoms may appear all of a sudden or may be present for a long time.
The main causes of pancreatitis include excessive intake of alcohol, gall bladder disease, particularly gall stones, inherited disorders, cystic fibrosis, some autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, metabolic disorders, high cholesterol and lipid levels in the blood, high calcium, infections, trauma, certain medications and surgery. In most cases, pancreas diseases are related to excessive alcohol intake, the presence of gallstones and inherited conditions.
In some cases, children may be affected with pancreatitis due to trauma and hereditary conditions. In some cases of pancreatitis, the exact cause may not be known. Hence, an awareness of the symptoms, diagnosis and prevention always helps.
What are the Symptoms of Pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis symptoms depend upon the type of pancreatitis and its severity. Based on the duration of occurrence, pancreatitis is classified into acute and chronic type.
Acute pancreatitis – Acute pancreatitis usually appears suddenly or within few hours of alcohol intake. Acute pancreatitis symptoms include pain in upper abdomen, which may even radiate to the back. The pain is severe and may last for few days. Abdominal pain is often associated with nausea and vomiting and the pain may worsen after eating. Acute pancreatitis usually shows fever, rapid pulse and a tender, swollen abdomen. It shows elevated enzymes in blood tests but goes off within few days of timely treatment.
Chronic pancreatitis – Chronic pancreatitis, is present for a long time. It may not heal but worsen with time and cause permanent damage. It is often caused due to heavy alcohol consumption for many years. Chronic pancreatitis symptoms include pain in upper abdomen in most cases, while some may not have any pain. It is accompanied by nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, oil stools and unusual weight loss. The main reason for chronic pancreatitis symptoms is that the damaged pancreas are unable to secrete digestive enzymes. This leads to poor digestion and inadequate absorption of nutrients causing the elimination of fats in stool and weight loss.
How is Pancreatitis Diagnosed?
Diagnosis of pancreatitis is made with clinical examination, history and laboratory tests. Blood tests to detect the levels of pancreatic enzymes, amylase or lipase are done. Ultrasound scans, Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) and Computerized tomography (CT), help in confirming the diagnosis. The blood tests are mostly useful in diagnosing acute pancreatitis. But for chronic cases, the extent of damage and the structure of pancreas are studied with X-rays and scans. Thus, depending on the chronic pancreatitis symptoms, the treating doctor will advise the necessary investigations.
Mild pancreatitis may go away on its own, but severe cases need proper treatment. Pancreatitis, if left untreated can cause severe complications and hence must be diagnosed and treated at once. Treatment of pancreatitis may need hospitalization to manage pain, maintain hydration and provide nutrition. Advanced treatment is planned depending on the underlying cause.
Tips to Keep your Pancreas Healthy
If you wish to keep your pancreas healthy, here are some easy tips.
- Limit alcohol
- Quit smoking
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain Healthy Weight
- Have Balanced Meals
- Avoid Crash Diets
- Stay Hydrated
Can you live without a Pancreas?
In some severe cases of acute pancreatitis, surgical treatment may be required. During this surgery, the damaged or dead tissue within and around the pancreas is removed. This may not affect the pancreas function to a great extent but may require further treatment. For surgical treatment of pancreatic cancer, other pancreatic diseases or severe trauma, partial or total removal of pancreas may be required. There are various surgical procedures to treat pancreatic diseases particularly pancreatic cancer and the best one is decided depending on the location and severity of the problem. If chronic pancreatitis symptoms are severe, removal of the pancreas is considered.
If the pancreas is partially or completely removed, the pancreas function is affected. The only way you can live without a pancreas is to duly compensate for the pancreas function. After removal of pancreas, medications, diet and lifestyle changes and sometimes transplantation is also required.
Living without a pancreas is possible if the given treatment and medical advice are followed properly. As pancreas function has to be managed with medicines, you will have to take medicines to control blood sugar levels. Enzyme replacements are given to make up for the pancreatic enzymes that are not available after pancreas removal. Regular monitoring of blood glucose and digestive enzymes levels is required. A healthy diet and lifestyle with some physical activity are often advised to stay healthy.
The pancreas is an important organ, hence, it is essential to protect it. While it is possible to live without a pancreas with the help of medicines and substitutes; preventing pancreatic diseases should be considered the best and first option.
So, be alert. Watch out for acute and chronic pancreatitis symptoms. Seek timely medical advice and monitor your health regularly. Keep your pancreas healthy with a healthy diet and lifestyle.
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