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Acute pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis is a sudden inflammation(swelling)of the pancreas.The pancreas is a vital organ located in the upper abdomen.It helps in digestion of nutrients and also secretes insulin.The inflammation of the pancreas is a major life-threatening problem which can have an impact on multiple organs like the lungs, kidneys, and intestines. 

What causes acute Pancreatitis?
The two main causes of acute pancreatitis are alcohol and stones in the gallbladder.Alcohol is toxic to the pancreatic tissue.Any amount of alcohol ingestion can result in pancreatitis.Meaning there is no safe limit of consumption.There are instances where people have suffered pancreatitis after ingesting the first glass of alcohol in their lives.
Gallstones are small calcium and cholesterol made substances formed in the gallbladder.When these stones slip out of the gallbladder into the bile duct(tube) they can travel down it and block the pancreas.This causes an attack of pancreatitis.
Apart from these two reasons, there are various other causes also

  • Certain medications like steroids
  • High triglyceride level in blood
  • High calcium levels in blood(due to some underlying problem of the parathyroid gland)
  • Autoimmune disorder
  • Familial

Symptoms of Acute Pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis is a very painful condition.It typically starts with a sudden catastrophic pain in the upper abdomen.The pain travels to the back and shoulders.The patient has vomiting, fever, and distension of the abdomen with gas.Severe attacks can be fatal within a few hours too.It can be mistaken for a heart attack many times.

What happens in Acute Pancreatitis?

Luckily most of the attacks of pancreatitis are mild.Meaning the attack passes off without any major damage to other organs.But around 15-20%of patients end up in acute severe pancreatitis.This is a rapidly progressing condition which quickly affects the kidneys, lungs, and intestine.The patient has a fall in blood pressure and may need treatment in an ICU setting.The effect of a single attack can progress over days and can last for weeks.In severe attacks, the risk of death is very high.

How to treat acute Pancreatitis?

The mainstay treatment of acute pancreatitis is supportive.Meaning there is no medicine which can reverse the attack that has happened.The aim of treating such patients is two fold

1.To support the organs which have suffered damage due to the pancreatitis
2.To take measures to prevent further attacks in future

  • The patient is kept fasting initially to give rest to the intestines
  • Antibiotics to prevent secondary infections.
  • Good oxygen supply

In cases where pancreatitis causes rotting of the intestinal fat and parts of the pancreas itself the [patient might need an operation to remove these infected materials.

Measures to prevent future attacks are aimed at treating the cause of the first attack.If gallstones are found to be the cause of pancreatitis a laparoscopic cholecystectomy(gallbladder removal)needs to be done as early as possible after the patient recovers.
Alcohol should be banned for life.
If the cause is found to be high calcium or triglycerides then specific treatment for those are needed.