Obesity is a serious metabolic disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It can lead to the development of various conditions like diabetes, cardiac issues, shortness of breath, and pancreatitis.
The pancreas is a gland located in the upper half of the abdomen which secretes digestive enzymes and insulin. “Any inflammation to the pancreas is known as pancreatitis and this could happen due to various reasons,” says Dr Muthu Kumaran Jayapaul, consultant endocrinology and diabetes, Fortis Malar, Chennai.
Dr Gaurav Kumar Patil, consultant gastroenterology, Sir H. N. Reliance foundation hospital and research center, Mumbai, adds that because of this inflammation, there is a sudden release of the digestive enzymes into the gastrointestinal system which causes swelling of the organs around the pancreas leading to intense pain.
How obesity causes pancreatitis
Though obesity does not directly cause pancreatitis, it leads to the following conditions:
Dr Patil explains that people with obesity have a lot of fat tissues around the pancreas and have lithogenic bile (thick and supersaturated bile). This bile can cause gallstones (pebble-like small masses) which can get obstructed in the pancreas and cause pancreatitis. “People with obesity are three to four times more prone to gallstones than non-obese people,” says Dr Jayapaul. He adds that these stones can obstruct or enter the gallbladder duct, resulting in additional complications for the pancreas.
High levels of triglycerides (a type of fat in blood)
Experts state that triglyceride levels are usually high in people with obesity and this can affect the pancreas significantly. Dr. Patil explains that high levels of triglycerides can lead to the accumulation of fat and the release of pancreatic enzymes, ultimately resulting in pancreatitis. “High triglycerides can also cause blockages in the blood supply to the pancreas which can further contribute to the development of pancreatitis,” says Dr Jayapaul.
Diabetes associated with obesity
People with obesity are at a higher risk of developing diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes also have an increased risk of developing acute pancreatitis. “Some diabetes or obesity medications can also lead to pancreatitis as a possible side effect,” says Dr Patil. Dr Jayapaul adds that the inflammatory mechanisms due to obesity and diabetes in the pancreas aggravate the risk of this condition.
Rapid weight loss
Rapid or sudden weight loss can also trigger this condition. “This happens because sudden weight reduction can put more pressure on the pancreas,” says Dr Jayapaul. Experts warn that treatment of obesity by surgery, drugs, or a very low-calorie diet can increase the risk of developing pancreatitis.
According to Dr Patil, drastic weight-loss procedures, such as surgeries have become very common in the last few years. “This can lead to excessive formation of gallstones or lithogenic bile, which can lead to pancreatitis,” he says.
Symptoms of pancreatitis
According to experts, the early symptoms of pancreatitis include – sudden onset of chronic pain in the upper abdomen which can also radiate to the back, vomiting, dehydration, poor appetite, exhaustion, high fever, and constipation.
In people with severe pancreatitis, the symptoms include low blood pressure, dizziness, swelling of the stomach, chronic diarrhea, weight loss, severe vomiting, nausea, jaundice, and reduced appetite.
Prevention for pancreatitis in people with obesity
Controlled and regulated weight loss
Experts state that it is crucial to gradually lose weight and manage it with proper medical guidance. Dr Jayapaul explains how important it is to lose weight with a healthy diet and not with fad diets like keto as they will instead aggravate pancreatic issues. “A healthy diet is important, one should not just look at calories but be on a low fat and lean protein kind of diet,” says Dr Patil.
Screening for gallbladder stones
Dr Patil explains that it is important to get screened for bladder stones before embarking on any therapy for pancreatitis. “If the person has a gallstone condition and they’ve had one episode of pancreatitis, they should get the required medical attention to treat that, which usually involves surgery,” says Dr Jayapaul.
Management of diabetes
Experts state that diabetes management is also necessary for reducing the risk of pancreatitis. “Avoid drugs that have side effects leading to the condition” advises Dr Patil.
To avoid conditions like pancreatitis in obese and diabetic people, it is important to maintain insulin levels and get the required medical attention.
Reduction of triglyceride levels
Experts suggest that if triglycerides are high, they should be treated with a good lifestyle and medications. “They can also consume fish oils (omega-3 fatty acids) as they prevent the surge of triglycerides,” says Dr Jayapaul.
- Obesity is associated with various conditions that can cause pancreatitis.
- People with obesity can develop gallbladder stones, diabetes, and high triglyceride levels – leading to pancreas inflammation.
- Drastic and sudden weight loss or surgery for weight loss can also cause pancreatitis.
- The symptoms of pancreatitis include severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, exhaustion, and poor appetite.
- It is important to lose weight in a regulated manner and follow a healthy lifestyle to prevent the development of pancreatitis.
- Regular screening for gallbladder stones and management of sugar levels is also important.