Pancreatitis

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Pancreatitis facts

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  • About 80,000 cases of pancreatitis occur in the US every year.
  • Pancreatitis causes abdominal pain.
  • Pancreatitis can be an acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term) condition.
  • The hallmark symptom of acute pancreatitis is abdominal pain. Other signs and symptoms of acute pancreatitis are:
    • nausea and vomiting
    • abdominal pain that may radiate to the back
    • pain that worsens after eating
    • chills and fever
    • tenderness of the abdomen to touch
    • lethargy and weakness
  • Diagnosis of pancreatitis is generally with blood and imaging tests.
  • Most cases of acute pancreatitis require hospitalization; however, treatment of chronic pancreatitis may be managed in an outpatient setting.
  • Complications of pancreatitis may include:
  • Pancreatitis can range from a mild, self-limited disease to a condition with life- threatening complications.

What is pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is a condition characterized by inflammation of the pancreas.

  • The pancreas is an abdominal gland situated behind the stomach in the upper abdomen.
  • The main function of the pancreas is to secrete hormones and enzymes that help with digestion and regulate blood sugar (glucose) metabolism.
  • The digestive enzymes are released via the pancreatic duct into the small intestine where they are activated to help break down fats and proteins.
  • The digestive hormones (insulin and glucagon) produced by the pancreas are released into the blood stream where they help regulate blood sugar levels.

Pancreatitis is categorized as being either acute or chronic.

  • Acute pancreatitis generally develops suddenly, and it is usually a short-term (a few days to weeks) illness that typically resolves with appropriate medical management.
  • Chronic pancreatitis, which typically develops after multiple episodes of acute pancreatitis, is a long-term condition that can last for months or even several years.

Pancreatitis is a condition that may be mild and self-limiting, though it can also lead to severe complications that can be life-threatening. The acute form of pancreatitis, in its most severe form, can have deleterious effects on many other body organs, including the lungs and kidneys.

Illustration of the Pancreas
Illustration of the Pancreas
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/28/2015

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Pancreatitis - Symptoms Question: What were your symptoms of pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis - Treatments Question: How was your pancreatitis (acute or chronic) treated?
Pancreatitis - Causes Question: If known, please describe the cause of your case of pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis - Experience Question: Please share your experience with acute or chronic pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis Symptoms

Changes in Stool Color

Certain persistent changes in stool color are characteristic for specific conditions such as:

  • Pale yellow, greasy, foul-smelling stool: malabsorption of fat due to pancreatic insufficiency, as seen with pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, cystic fibrosis, celiac disease
  • Black, foul-smelling stool: intestinal bleeding due to ulcers, tumors;
  • Ingestion of iron or bismuth maroon stool: intestinal bleeding due to ulcers, tumors, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis
  • Clay-colored stool: lack of bile due to blockage of the main bile duct pale yellow, greasy, foul-smelling stool: