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Pancreatitis: Not a thing to be brushed aside
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Pancreatitis: Not a thing to be brushed aside

Experts say that the most common causes of pancreatitis are heavy alcohol consumption and gallstones

Pancreatitis refers to inflammation of the pancreas and consuming a low-fat diet along with avoiding alcohol and tobacco are key to preventing the condition

A fun online party with friends during the Covid-19 lockdown in June 2020 turned into a scary experience for Kurt Coleman. So much so that the Australian DJ and media personality has not had a sip of alcohol since then. A few glasses of wine that night put him in a hospital in Melbourne due to a shooting pain in his stomach. Three days later, he was diagnosed with pancreatitis.

He says, “The doctors were constantly checking but couldn’t figure out the cause and then on the third day, they linked it to alcohol as I had wine the night before. They concluded that it was pancreatitis.”

Growing up in the entertainment industry, he was into drinking since the age of 12. “I was addicted to alcohol when I was a teenager. But I stopped drinking a lot at age 21 and that’s when I got sick. So, it just really shocks me to see how it can catch up. Doctors also told me that the condition cannot be reversed, it’s a body part that can’t regenerate,” he adds.

What is pancreatitis?

Dr Amit Dangi, consultant gastroenterologist and pancreatic surgeon, Churamani Multispeciality Hospital, Hisar, India, says, “Pancreas is an important gland in the body, which produces digestive enzymes and hormones like insulin. The inflammation of this gland is called pancreatitis.”

There are two types – acute and chronic. Dr Brooke Glessing, medical director of endoscopy at UH Cleveland Medical Center, Cleveland, Ohio, adds, “Acute pancreatitis is a sudden attack on the pancreas leading to quick onset of inflammation and pain. Chronic pancreatitis usually occurs after repeated damage to the pancreas over time.”

Experts say that the most common causes of pancreatitis are heavy alcohol consumption and gallstones. Dr Dangi adds, gallstones can migrate from the bile duct (through the pancreas) into the intestine causing inflammation. “Alcohol is metabolised into acetaldehyde which is toxic to pancreatic cells. It also increases intracellular calcium levels. Pancreas secretes inactive digestive enzymes which get activated after reaching the intestine and start digesting food. However, due to alcohol intake, these enzymes get activated within the pancreas and start digesting your own pancreatic cells,” he explains.

A 2020 review article published in Karger states that while there is a direct link between alcohol abuse and pancreatitis, majority of alcohol abusers do not develop alcoholic pancreatitis. There are genetic, environmental and other unknown factors which enhance this risk.

Dr Dangi says, “Other reasons for pancreatitis, like high lipid level, drugs, trauma or injury are usually very rare.” Dr Glessing adds, “There are congenital and inherited causes of acute pancreatitis. Pancreatic cancer can also be a very rare cause. Sometimes, the cause of pancreatitis is never clearly identified, which is called idiopathic.”

Symptoms of Pancreatitis

The symptoms of acute pancreatitis usually include sudden onset of central abdominal pain (which radiates to the back), nausea and vomiting. Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include constant or regular bouts of stomach pain that may not go away completely. Dr Dangi says that the pancreas of those with chronic pancreatitis is shrunk (atrophy), where multiple stones are formed. It loses its capacity to secrete enzymes and important hormones like insulin.

Dr Glessing adds, “There can be accompanying nausea and vomiting. Chronic pancreatitis impairs pancreatic function leading to pancreatic insufficiency.”

How serious is pancreatitis?

Dr Glessing says that in case of chronic pancreatitis, people can develop maldigestion, leading to fatigue, weight loss, chronic diarrhoea and malnutrition. “Additionally, their pancreas can lose the ability to control blood glucose leading to diabetes or worsening of pre-existing diabetes. Chronic inflammation can be a risk factor for pancreatic cancer,” she says.

Coleman lost most of his body weight after three days of hospitalisation. “I was so skinny. I wasn’t allowed to eat in the hospital because my pancreas needed rest. I only had jelly and water. I was too weak to even open a jar to make breakfast. It took me months to get back to normal,” he recalls.

Kurt Coleman after being diagnosed with pancreatitis

Treatment for Pancreatitis

Experts say that most people can recover from acute pancreatitis in about a week. However, it can also be quite severe and life threatening. Dr Glessing says that inflammation can spread from the pancreas to other organs like kidneys, bile ducts, liver, heart and lungs. “Acute inflammation in the pancreas and surrounding peri-pancreatic tissues can lead to leakage of tissue fluid that can then organize into cysts, fluid-filled lesions, called pseudocysts and sometimes need to be drained. Severe inflammation can even cause necrosis (tissue death), which can lead to other longer-term complications including pancreatic insufficiency,” she says.

Dr Dangi calls pancreatitis a lethal infection of the human body. “There is no medicine to treat the root cause. The body heals by itself. We just manage the complications through antibiotics, removing gallstones or toxic fluid that gets accumulated in the organ, putting feeding tube in the intestine or surgery,” he says.

Tips to keep our pancreas healthy

  • Avoiding known triggers for pancreatitis, such as alcohol and tobacco.
  • Consuming a healthy low-fat diet.
  • Staying well-hydrated.
  • Maintaining normal calcium levels.
  • Maintaining lipid profile within normal limits.

Coleman says that he used to think alcohol was fun and made him happy. “But it just numbs you up, especially if you are drinking a lot. I completely stay away from alcohol now,” he says. He now eats organic foods, meat and works out every day to gain a lot of strength. “I think our body is our temple, we shouldn’t be putting poison in it,” he adds.

Takeaways

  • Inflammation of the pancreas is called pancreatitis and people with this condition are at risk of developing diabetes and pancreatic cancer.
  • The two most common causes of pancreatitis are alcohol abuse and gallstones.
  • There are two types of pancreatitis – acute and chronic. While acute pancreatitis causes sudden onset of pain, chronic condition develops over the years.
  • Symptoms of acute pancreatitis include central abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting while those of chronic pancreatitis include pancreatic atrophy, stomach pain and formation of stones.
  • The precautionary measures include avoiding alcohol, tobacco and consuming a low-fat diet.

Share Your Experience/Comments

15 Responses

  1. Best knowledge given regarding
    Ac n Ch pancreatitis. I thanks a lot to both Dr Dangi Sir n Dr Glessing Mam.
    U explained also idiopathic cause.
    There is a client with ch. Pancreatitis with no H/o alcohol, no smoking, tobacco chewer for few yrs, with normal lipid profile than what will b the future of such client ?
    With regards,

    1. Thank you for your query, we at Happiest Health however do not offer medical advice or suggest any doctors’ names.

    1. Above 90% pancreas damage due to acute pancreatitis. Now what about remaining life. Is this normal life or not

    2. Please sugest me about half pancreas,I have only head of pancreas because of injury caused by run over by vehical

      1. Thank you for your query, we at Happiest Health however do not offer medical advice or suggest any doctors’ names.

    1. Thank you for your feedback and query, we at Happiest Health however do not offer medical advice or suggest any doctors’ names.

  2. When I was drinking I had a green descharge with poop,now I have totally stopped liquor but I am getting constipated before poop was free flow.Can you explain any reason,or I am out of pancreatitis.Please advise
    Thanks.

    1. Thank you for your query, we at Happiest Health however do not offer medical advice or suggest any doctors’ names.

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