The Pancreas is an organ that lies in the abdomen next to the small intestines and produces hormones, such as Insulin and Glucagon as well as enzymes that are needed for digestion of food in the small intestine. Pancreatitis refers to the medical condition in which the Pancreas get inflamed. Inflammation is the body's natural reaction to infection or injury. Pancreatitis may be sudden in onset and progresses over several days to months. Some cases may progress over years.
Depending on how the disease progresses, it can be classified as acute or chronic. Acute pancreatitis is shorter in duration and maybe due to infection (such as Mumps), gallstones (cholelithiasis ), alcoholism, etc. Chronic pancreatitis, on the other hand, lasts for much longer than acute pancreatitis and is in most cases due to alcoholism. Other causes of chronic pancreatitis include autoimmune diseases, cystic fibrosis, stricture (narrowing) of the common bile duct,etc. Failure to get this condition treated may result in scarring of the pancreas which is basically replacement of the organ's normal tissue by scar tissue. This scar tissue is incapable of producing the hormones and digestive enzymes normally required by the body. Other complications that arise from unresolved pancreatitis include formation of stones in the pancreas or any of its ducts and cyst formation.
The pancreas lies behind the stomach and right next to the small intestine. Therefore, the first symptom usually observed is abdominal pain in the upper part. This abdominal pain usually radiates to the back. Abdominal pain radiating to the back is a characteristic symptom of pancreatic involvement in any disease. This is because the pancreas is in contact with the part of the abdominal wall on the back. The pain may sometimes also be of a burning nature. The pain radiating to the back usually worsens on lying down or leaning back and is sometimes relieved on leaning forward.
Unintentional Weight Loss
Weight loss is commonly seen in pancreatitis because the inflamed pancreas is not able to adequately secrete the digestive enzymes. These enzymes are essential for the digestion and absorption of food in the small intestine where most of the nutrient absorption takes place. Unintentional weight loss in pancreatitis may be due to inadequate enzyme production, stones in the pancreatic duct due to unresolved long standing pancreatitis or due to the body's response to a chronic illness.
Tenderness refers to the phenomenon in which pain is illicited on touching or applying light pressure to a part of the body. Tenderness over the abdomen, specially the upper part is a symptom of pancreatitis due to increased pressure in the abdomen in case of severe inflammation of the pancreas. Application of pressure further increases the pressure in the abdomen locally and the organs are sensitive to increased pressure.
Other symptoms of pancreatitis include:
- Increased heart rate