Pancreatitis describes inflammation of the pancreas gland which lies behind the stomach and whose digestive contents enter the duodenum via the pancreatic and bile ducts. The digestive enzymes include those that split carbohydrate fat and protein and are all delivered at the same time irrespective of the content of the diet.
When the pancreas is inflamed there is invariably acute severe pain in the upper part of the abdomen beneath the rib cage, frequently radiating to the back or round both sides towards the back. It will last many hours and there are no relieving factors such as vomiting or eating. There may be an associated fever and vomiting because of the severity of the pain.
The common triggers include:- gall stones and excessive alcohol intake, sometimes there are drugs that may cause it or infections such as mumps, Pancreatic cancer is not necessarily consequent upon chronic pancreatitis. It more frequently arises without any obvious cause and may be painful or painless.
Weight loss is usually a feature and jaundice can occur if the bile duct is obstructed. There are no screening tests that can prevent it and the only successful treatment is major surgery.
Chronic Pancreatitis is a much more uncommon problem that may follow repeated bouts of acute inflammation and result in lack of the various digestive enzymes and insulin so that diabetes may occur. Diseases such as haemochromatosis (iron overload) are another cause.