Pancreatitis: Could Abdominal Aches Be A Warning Sign?

Aon Health & Wellbeing Conversation #7

Having a sudden stomachache? Or perhaps you often experience it? A seemingly innocuous stomachache may be anything but that. While some abdominal aches can be caused by gas or indigestion, others may be a symptom of more sinister diagnosis, including pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, an important organ that helps in food digestion. It produces enzymes that are released into the small intestines to aid in the breakdown of food. The pancreas also releases insulin and glucagon that help process glucose which is used by the body for energy. Issues arise when the enzymes start working before they get released, causing the pancreas to get infected.
Pancreatitis can be classified in two ways, acute or chronic. Acute pancreatitis happens without warning and may last for a couple of days. Chronic pancreatitis, on the other hand, is a state of repetitive occurrence and happens over many years.
The symptoms
Pain resulting from pancreatitis can be excruciating. It would be felt it in the upper portion of the abdomen just beneath the rib, radiating to the back. The pain could also get worse after eating, especially if food is oily in nature.
Other symptoms include:
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Swollen and tender belly
  • Rapid pulse and heightened heart rate
Additionally, chronic pancreatitis is characterized by:
  • Constant pain in the upper belly
  • Smelly and oily stool (steatorrhea)
  • Weight loss without any effort
What causes you to be at risk?
Pancreatitis can be hereditary in nature. Symptoms and attacks may start during the early years of life and it places an individual to a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. But for most, pancreatitis is developed due to other health issues as well as habits. However, there are a lot of instances where causes of pancreatitis are unknown.
Some of the causes are:
  • Obesity
  • Alcoholism or excessive alcohol intake
  • Smoking
  • Certain medications
  • High calcium and triglyceride levels in the blood
  • Other infections
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Gall bladder stones
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Trauma or injury to the abdomen
  • Abdominal surgery which includes endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) which is a procedure to treat gallstones
How can you manage and prevent it?
As with any other physiological issue, repetitive occurrence causes damage. With pancreatitis, there is scarring on the pancreatic lining, due to which the function of the organ decreases over time. The non-performing pancreas causes digestive problems and even diabetes.
While mild cases of pancreatitis may go away without any treatment, pancreatitis should not be ignored as it could lead to life-threatening consequences including pancreatic cancer, a silent and painless health condition that is most often discovered when it has already metastasized to other internal organs.
Any infection should be administered with proper medication to avoid recurrence and complications. Some tips to avoid pancreatitis from manifesting include:
  • Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration
  • Eat a balanced, low-fat and protein-rich diet (such as vegetables, beans, lentils, fruits, whole grains, non-fried plant-based foods, lean meats)
  • Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Stop smoking
Certain risk factors such as family history cannot be avoided. However, one can manage his/her health with a good lifestyle. In case of doubt, it is best to consult a medical practitioner for proper diagnosis and management.

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