The pancreas is a gland located behind your stomach. It produces hormones that help control blood sugar levels and juices that help break down food. Because the pancreas is in a difficult to reach place near the spine, pancreatic disease can be hard to diagnose.
Our specialists in the Gastrointestinal Services can help you determine if your symptoms could be caused by pancreatitis or another disease of the pancreas. We also offer second opinions through expert evaluation as well as customized management plans for these disorders.
Common Pancreatic Disorders
Common pancreatic diseases and disorders can include the following:
- Acute pancreatitis
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Hereditary pancreatitis
- Pancreatic cancer
Pancreatitis is when inflammation of the pancreas occurs. The digestive enzymes of the gastrointestinal system start digesting the pancreas itself. This disorder can be acute, meaning the patient recovers completely, or chronic, meaning the patient experiences ongoing returns of the disorder.
Acute pancreatitis is a sudden attack causing inflammation of the pancreas. The most common causes of acute pancreatitis are gallstones. Common symptoms of acute pancreatitis are the following:
- Severe pain in the upper abdomen
Treatment for acute pancreatitis usually involves medication or possibly a short stay in the hospital as your doctor recommends.
Chronic pancreatitis does not improve but gets worse over time and causes permanent damage to the pancreas. The symptoms for chronic pancreatitis are very similar to those for acute pancreatitis; however, patients may start to develop malnutrition and lose weight. They can also develop diabetes mellitus.
The most common cause of chronic pancreatitis is heavy alcohol use. Other causes can include cystic fibrosis, inherited disorders, autoimmune conditions, some medications, and high levels of calcium or fats in the blood or no known cause.
Treatment may depend on the symptoms of the disorder. Most include the following:
- Pain management
- Nutrition management
- Use of IV fluids or medications
- Oral medication enzyme supplements to help patients digest food
- Insulin to control blood sugar in cases of diabetes
The use of alcohol must be stopped for any effective treatment.
The most common inherited pancreatitis disorder is cystic fibrosis. Other causes include abnormalities of the pancreas or intestine inherited by the patient. Patients with hereditary pancreatitis may have similar symptoms to chronic pancreatitis: chronic pain, diarrhea, malnutrition, and diabetes.
Treatment for this condition is similar to treatment for chronic pancreatitis and includes pain management and replacing pancreatic enzymes for digestion.
Pancreatic cancer can begin in the cells of the pancreas that produce juices. Symptoms can include jaundice (yellowish skin discoloration). Specialists at the gastrointestinal services, if they detect the possibility of cancer, will help you find a cancer specialist to evaluate your condition and help you decide on a treatment.