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Pancreatitis: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

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The suffix “itis” references inflammation and is often attached to a number of medical conditions that humans face. Much like this term implies, pancreatitis refers to inflammation of the pancreas and can have a large number of causes. These causes may be either acute or chronic and depend on many factors including lifestyle, genetics, diet and more (x).

To understand just how the inflammation of the pancreas affects the human body, it is important to understand the role that the pancreas plays within the digestive system. As an organ located in the upper abdominal region, it primarily serves in the capacity of two vital functions, listed below:

  1. The first function is to release enzymes into the digestive tract. These enzymes have the ability to help break down food, release necessary nutrients into the body and prepare waste products for excretion after further filtering.
  2. The second function is to release the hormone “insulin.” The purpose of this hormone is to help regulate blood glucose levels. This ensures that individuals’ blood sugar is maintained in a healthy range, avoiding diabetic ketoacidosis, diabetic coma and more.

When the pancreas becomes inflamed, it often is the result of lack of proper function. This causes a lack of regulation within the digestive tract. It may also cause issues with digestion of food or lack of regulation of blood glucose levels, thus leading to diabetes and secondary conditions (x).

Pancreatitis Symptoms

It may be confusing to understand abdominal symptoms and how to differentiate among a number of conditions based on the symptoms. However, pancreatitis does have a unique presentation that can help rule out a number of other conditions.

Abdominal Pain

While pain is associated with many abdominal conditions and issues, location is an important factor (x). For example, the appendix is located in the lower right quadrant of the abdominal region. Pain in this area is often a tell-tale sign that this is the condition that is plaguing the patient. In a similar fashion, pain in the upper abdominal area, along with other signs such as uncontrollable blood sugar and symptoms of lifestyle associated with pancreatitis, may be blatant signs of this condition by a healthcare provider (x).

Nausea

In addition to pain in the upper abdominal area, individuals suffering from pancreatitis, whether acute or caused by chronic issues, will likely experience nausea and vomiting. This can be due to free-floating enzymes that may disrupt the GI tract itself. Additionally, the lack of breakdown of food may cause additional blockage throughout the intestines. This then triggers food secondary issues such as constipation and stomach pains (x).

Increased Heart Rate

Pulse may increase as the heart starts to work harder to supply more blood to the damaged pancreas. The increase in blood flow is often not enough to repair the damaged tissue unless it is a minor case. Otherwise, the heart’s efforts to compensate for organ damage causes additional strain on the cardiovascular system. This leads to further issues for patients with pancreatitis (x). Immediately alert a physician if experiencing a rapidly elevated pulse.

Fever

Fever is often a sign of systemic infection. As the disease progresses, the rest of the body’s systems start to suffer. Fever shows signs of infection and possibly a build-up of enzymes that are not processing properly. This can ignite distress throughout the digestive system (x).

Weight Loss

Another symptom of pancreatitis, in accordance with the other symptoms and signs listed above, is weight loss. Because of the enzymes’ inability to break down food and digest nutrients, most food is processed as waste. This can cause atrophy of muscles, a decrease in fat to levels that may slow down hormone production and normal sexual function and a decrease in vitamins and minerals that may cause low bone mineral density among other health issues (x).

Symptoms of Pancreatitis

Causes of Pancreatitis

As stated, there are many causes than can lead to developing pancreatitis. Some of these causes are acute and others are chronic in nature. The following have a common connection to pancreatitis (x):

Gallstones

One common cause of pancreatitis in the acute stage is the associated condition of gallstones. Gallstones are deposits of calcium and other minerals that block the bile duct of the gallbladder. This prevents the flow of digestive enzymes into the pancreas. Due to the blockage, the pancreas is unable to maintain normal function and becomes inflamed as a result. In most cases, removal or resolution of gallstones will help to relieve the stress on the pancreas (x).

Cystic Fibrosis

Another common cause for the disease in a chronic nature is the diagnosis of cystic fibrosis. As cystic fibrosis causes lesions in the pancreatic ducts in which enzymes flow, the enzymes are blocked and are unable to maintain normal function. This results in chronic inflammation of the pancreas as it struggles to maintain its role in the GI tract (x).

Infection

A general infection may also cause pancreatitis acutely. Normally, infection may spread and can engage the pancreas, at which point regular function will start to break down (x).

Alcoholism

Alcoholism is another common cause for pancreatitis. Alcohol is rich in sugars. For those who are drinking constantly, the pancreas must work hard to produce insulin in order to balance out these sugars and maintain healthy blood glucose levels. As the pancreas must work excessively to keep these levels within a normal and healthy biologic range, it can easily become overworked and start to break down. Once this breakdown begins, continued usage of alcohol in excess continues to stress the organ, causing further damage. For many alcoholics with this condition, the only remedy is invasive surgical procedures in addition to major lifestyle changes (x).

Pancreatic Remedies and Supplements

There are many invasive procedures and medications available for severe cases of pancreatitis. However, there are also a number of natural remedies available for minor cases. While each course of treatment should be individualized and discussed with a physician, the following remedies have all been used to different degrees of success for many patients suffering from pancreatitis (x):

Rhodiola

Rhodiola is a natural herb that has a wide array of uses. It may aid the immune system response to bodily stresses that have systemic implications. When a patient suffers from pancreatitis, the immune system kicks into overdrive as it attempts to respond to the damage to the organ. Aiding this system helps to create improved bodily defense to infection. This can assist with healing, especially in moderate cases of pancreatitis (x).

Reishi Mushroom

This naturally grown herb offers a wide array of uses for different conditions throughout the human body. Commonly, it is geared to aiding the immune system. In addition, this herb is a known anti-inflammatory that possesses the ability to work systemically. While many anti-inflammatories work primarily in fighting mild muscle and joint inflammation, reishi mushrooms can help the GI tract and organs in other vital parts of the body. Supplementing with this herb may help reduce symptoms as well as lower the amount of damage done by the disease (x).

Glutamine

Glutamine is an amino acid that serves a wide array of functions. As an amino acid, it is a building block of protein and assists with bodily recovery and growth. However, it additionally serves an added role in intestinal health within the GI tract. When damage is done to the pancreas, tissue breakdown occurs. Glutamine is geared towards specifically assisting with the recovery of epithelial tissue as needed within the GI tract. This supplementation may be ideal for those rebounding from an acute bout of pancreatitis. It also provides benefits to those suffering from chronic illnesses (x).

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a great anti-inflammatory that has possible systemic benefits for those with a wide array of illnesses. As it works in this capacity, it can possess the ability to reduce conditions that affect the GI tract. It is often recommended for symptom alleviation for those suffering from chronic pancreatitis (x).

Acupuncture

Acupuncture works along the lines of assisting with meridian pain and pathology. With proper acupuncture, many believe that they can help to minimize pathology, such as pancreatitis and other inflammatory responses (x).

Yoga

While this treatment has had varying degrees of results, a great number of pancreatitis patients have seen profound benefits from the regular implementation of yoga. The idea behind this remedy is to relieve stress within the body. Stress can have significant effects on the GI tract and cause inflammation. Only partake in yoga when under the supervision of a professional (x).

The Bottom Line

Pancreatitis can be a very troubling condition with many secondary systemic effects. For those suffering from diabetes, this is an issue that should be addressed immediately in order to ensure the right remedies and treatment options are available. While many cases can be solved through natural remedies and minimal intervention, the best course of treatment should always be discussed with a physician to ensure all necessary steps are taken.

About the author

Robert Madden


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