How much do you know about your pancreas? If you’re like most people, it probably isn’t much. The pancreas doesn’t get a lot of attention, but it plays a vital role in your health.

Your pancreas has two major roles in your body, exocrine and endocrine. The exocrine function is when it produces the enzymes needed to digest your food. These enzymes are made and put into your stomach when you eat. The second function is the endocrine function. The endocrine function is when your pancreas produces hormones, like insulin, to control your blood sugar.

When those two things don’t happen, it can impact your ability to get nutrients from your food. Sometimes, the enzymes the pancreas releases start working in the pancreas, instead of the stomach where they should work. When this happens, the pancreas becomes inflamed, which is called pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas. It can be acute, meaning it comes on suddenly and goes away in a few days, or chronic, where it occurs over many years. The symptoms of acute and chronic pancreatitis may not immediately raise a red flag, which is why it is important to have regular visits with your provider, so these subtle changes become clear, and something can be done earlier.

Acute Symptoms:

  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Abdominal pain that moves to your back
  • Fever
  • Rapid pulse
  • Nausea/vomiting

Chronic Symptoms:

  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Abdominal pain that gets worse when eating
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Oily, smelly stool

Usually, pancreatitis begins as acute pancreatitis. This flare-up can cause damage to the pancreas, which can lead to the condition becoming chronic. Chronic pancreatitis leads to scarring on the pancreas which causes it to function less efficiently.

The specific cause of pancreatitis can vary from person to person, and sometimes can’t be identified. However, there are a few things that can increase your risk of developing pancreatitis. If you’re a smoker or drink alcohol excessively, you’re at a higher risk. Health conditions like obesity and diabetes can also raise your risk.

If you begin experiencing symptoms, it is important to talk to your provider. Pancreatitis does not go away on its own, and if you wait too long to seek treatment the rest of your health could suffer. In addition to the damage done to your pancreas, untreated pancreatitis can lead to breathing problems, diabetes, cancer, and kidney failure.

Your provider has multiple options for diagnosing you with pancreatitis. Blood tests can often be used as the first step for diagnosing pancreatitis, and other tools like abdominal ultrasounds, MRIs, and CT scans provide ways to diagnose pancreatitis and determine what, if any, damage has occurred.

Pancreatitis is not a condition that will go away on its own, and it must be treated by a medical professional. In many cases treating pancreatitis starts with a hospital stay. Treating pancreatitis depends on your specific situation, but it can be treated.

Pancreatitis can be hard for you to notice on your own, but if it is left untreated it can wreak havoc on other parts of your body. Your best defense against chronic health conditions is a strong relationship with your provider.

Whether you need to find a provider to be your partner in care, or you’re due to see yours, schedule an appointment today!

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