What is Pancreas?The pancreas is a gland that sits behind the stomach. Larger than your gallbladder, but smaller than the liver, the pancreas plays a key role in the digestive system. Its juices join bile from the liver and gallbladder to drain into the small intestine. Specifically, the pancreas:
Secretes digestive juices (enzymes and a substance called sodium bicarbonate) into the small intestine
Produces the hormones, including insulin and glucagons, that control your body’s ability to use sugar. The digestive substances split the fats, proteins, and carbohydrates into digestible molecules.
What is pancreatitis?Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. This condition usually begins at an acute stage, and in some cases, may become chronic after a severe and/or recurrent attack. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, the digestive enzymes attack the tissue that produces them. One of these enzymes, called trypsin, can cause tissue damage and bleeding, and can cause the pancreas blood cells and blood vessels to swell. With chronic pancreatitis, the pancreas may eventually stop producing the enzymes that are necessary for your body to digest and absorb nutrients. This is called exocrine failure and fat and protein are not digested or absorbed. When chronic pancreatitis is advanced, the pancreas can also lose its ability to make insulin; this is called endocrine failure.
There are two stages of pancreatitisAcute pancreatitis:
This condition can occur suddenly, soon after the pancreas becomes damaged or irritated by its own enzymes. Although acute pancreatitis is not fully understood, its causes are usually gallstones or alcohol abuse. When gallstones pass through the bile duct, they may become stuck, causing enzymes to build up in the pancreas because they cannot drain through the duct, and damaging the pancreas. In the case of alcohol, the pancreas may be sensitive to the effects of excessive alcohol. An attack may occur anywhere from a few hours or one to two days after drinking alcohol. The amount of alcohol consumed will vary from person to person. Other less common causes of this condition are: excessive levels of fat particles in the blood, mumps, drugs, surgery, heredity, and idiopathic (unknown cause).
This stage of pancreatitis begins as acute pancreatitis, and becomes chronic when the pancreas becomes scarred. This condition is usually due to years of excessive alcohol consumption, but may also develop from other causes of pancreatitis.
What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?The symptoms begin as those of acute pancreatitis:
- A gradual or sudden severe pain in the center part of the upper abdomen goes through to your back; this pain may get worse when you eat and builds to a persistent pain.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Jaundice (a yellowing of the skin) due to blockage of the bile duct from the inflamed pancreas
- Weight loss
- Symptoms of diabetes mellitus