Care for the Pancreas

The pancreas may get little attention, that is, until it acts up. But this gland, located behind your stomach and in front of your spine, plays an important role in helping to break down food and hormones that help control blood sugar levels. Problems with the pancreas can lead to other health problems, including pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that occurs when digestive enzymes start digesting the pancreas itself. This may sound like something out of a Sci-Fi movie, but in reality pancreatitis may be caused by a number of factors, including:

  • Gallstones
  • Alcohol
  • Certain medications
  • A serious viral or bacterial infection
  • Trauma to the abdomen
  • High triglyceride levels
  • High blood calcium levels

Pancreatitis comes in two forms: acute and chronic.

Acute pancreatitis is a short-term, sudden inflammation which usually resolves with intensive treatment. Common symptoms are severe pain in the upper abdomen, nausea and vomiting. In acute pancreatitis, enzymes and toxins can flood the bloodstream, causing injury to major organs such as the lungs, kidneys and heart. There are about 80,000 cases of acute pancreatitis each year in the United States, of which 20% are severe and/or life-threatening. Acute pancreatitis occurs more frequently in men than women, and may be caused by gallstones, alcohol intake or medication.

Chronic pancreatitis is a disease process that occurs over a longer period of time, and which does not resolve itself without treatment. The most common cause is heavy alcohol use. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, weight loss and oily stools, which may need to be treated in the hospital with administration of intravenous (IV) fluids, medicines to relieve pain and nutritional support. Long term, you may need to start taking enzymes and eat a special diet. It is also important to not smoke or drink alcohol. Chronic pancreatitis can slowly destroy the pancreas, causing, in severe cases bleeding, infection and tissue damage, as well as fluid accumulation and tissue debris. Chronic pancreatitis may occur if acute pancreatitis is not resolved.

Our approach to care for conditions of the pancreas includes compassionate support, information and comprehensive treatment developed with you in mind.