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Simply put, pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. Located behind the stomach in the upper abdomen, your pancreas produces digestive enzymes and hormones that regulate how your body produces sugar.
Pancreatitis is caused by the irritation and inflammation of the cells of your pancreas. This occurs when digestive enzymes released by the pancreas become active while still in the pancreas.
Pancreatitis can occur in two forms — acute and chronic. More people experience an acute form of pancreatitis, which appears suddenly. Mild cases of pancreatitis can typically be resolved in days with treatment. Severe cases of acute pancreatitis can cause life-threatening conditions, such as kidney and lung failure.
Acute pancreatitis symptoms include:
Treatment for acute pancreatitis consists of IV fluids and medication to manage pain. You can eat if tolerated, or tube feeding may be necessary. After getting your symptoms under control, identifying and treating the cause of your pancreatitis is the next step for your health care team.
Once your pancreatitis is under control, your health care team will determine what caused the pancreatitis attack. Treatment depends on the cause.
Examples of treatment include:
Pancreatitis that occurs over many years can damage your pancreas and lead to chronic pancreatitis. It causes permanent damage and scarring of the pancreas. Chronic pancreatitis can lead to weight loss, pain, diabetes and pancreatic cancer.
Chronic pancreatitis symptoms include:
Treating chronic pancreatitis may involve changes to your diet, pain management, and taking enzymes to improve digestion.
Some factors increase your risk of developing pancreatitis:
Talk with your health care team about sudden or persistent symptoms related to pancreatitis.
Sebastian Strobel, M.D., specializes in gastroenterology and hepatology in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
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