Chronic Pancreatitis is a deadly digestive disorder involving inflammation of the pancreas that does not heal over time, causing it to get worse and incur permanent damage.
In contrast to Acute Pancreatitis, which occurs over a shorter period of time, Chronic Pancreatitis can last forever depending upon the reason for contracting the condition and the treatment that a person may seek.
Most often, this ailment occurs in men between the ages of 30 and 40, making it imperative that medical attention is sought to address the causes and symptoms of the illness.
Treatment is more commonly addressed through lifestyle changes, making it the personal responsibility of a person with Chronic Pancreatitis to make the changes necessary to better their life.
Anatomically Incorrect: The Effects of Chronic Pancreatitis on the Pancreas
The pancreas is an organ found behind the stomach that produces the enzymes necessary to digest food. The pancreas has two primary functions, specifically to secrete these enzymes into the small intestine to help digest food and to release the hormones insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream, regulating how the body uses the energy as it breaks down food.
The inflammation that occurs in Chronic Pancreatitis causes scarring and other damage, meaning that the organ is no longer able to produce the correct amount of these enzymes.
Because these enzymes are an essential component of the digestive process, the body may be unable to digest fats and other nutrients effectively, consequently affecting the second task of the pancreas as well.
This compromises the functioning of the pancreas in general, meaning that an individual with Chronic Pancreatitis can no longer break down their food effectively or use the food for essential energy.
Consider the Causes of Chronic Pancreatitis
Overwhelmingly, the most common cause of Chronic Pancreatitis is alcohol abuse, which often occurs over a number of years. However, this does not imply that those who do not use, or abuse, alcohol cannot contract this ailment.
Those who experience multiple cases of Acute Pancreatitis are more likely to develop Chronic Pancreatitis as well, much like in the case of Chronic Bronchitis.
Genetics is also thought to be a factor in some cases, making family history an important component to consider when searching for a cause.
There are also many conditions that have been correlated with the onset of Chronic Pancreatitis. Autoimmune problems are one of the most obvious due to the inflammation present in the pancreas in this condition.
High levels of fat in the blood called triglycerides are also a common culprit of Chronic Pancreatitis. Certain medications, especially estrogen and corticosteroids can also be related to the development of the ailment as well, although this varies from person to person.
Cystic fibrosis is also thought to be related, most likely because it is a condition that affects the pancreas.
While there is some indication as to what the causes of Chronic Pancreatitis may be, there is still a lot that remains unknown and experimental.
Because each individual case is unique, doctors can more easily diagnose and evaluate individuals once they come in with specific symptoms.
Symptoms: Increasingly Frequent and Fierce
The symptoms of Chronic Pancreatitis are most often concentrated in the abdomen and manifest as digestive problems.
Throughout the course of the illness, the symptoms will become increasingly more severe. Indeed, it is even believed that the symptoms themselves mimic pancreatic cancer.
The most common symptom of Chronic Pancreatitis is the abdominal pain that an individual will experience. This pain is most heavily experienced in the upper abdomen and can last anywhere from a couple of hours, to any number of days.
The pain intensifies upon eating or drinking and typically gets worse should a person choose to drink alcohol.
Additionally, the pain may be intense enough to be felt in the back as well, making it even more difficult to manage distress. This pain is usually experienced with a fever and increased heart rate as well.
Digestive problems typically accompany this abdominal pain. Chronic weight loss is one aspect of Chronic Pancreatitis that is expected, even if a person has not changed their dietary habits.
This is related to the fact that diarrhea, nausea and vomiting are also common digestive issues experienced by those with this condition.
An individual’s stool is another telling indication as to the source of their ailment because Chronic Pancreatitis is characterized by a person having fatty, oily, pale or clay-colored waste.
Diagnosing Chronic Pancreatitis
Chronic Pancreatitis is thought to be the cause of a patient’s discomfort should they fall into some of the categories that involve the risk factors discussed above.
Some of these risk factors include prolonged alcohol use, gallstones or Cystic Fibrosis. Blood tests can confirm the presence of certain digestive enzymes in the blood as well, and high levels of amylase and lipase are typically strong indicators of Pancreatitis.
There are many tests available to doctors that can help diagnose Chronic Pancreatitis. Pancreatic functioning tests and imagining scans, such as ultrasounds or CT scans, can also detect abnormalities in the pancreas.
More advanced stages of Chronic Pancreatitis can also be easier to diagnose because of the presence of issues that manifest in the stool, blood and urine.
Through testing, doctors can confirm exactly how severe a condition is and prescribe a treatment method tailored to an individual’s unique needs.
Easy to Detect, Difficult to Treat
Due to the prevalence of a wide array of symptoms in patients with Chronic Pancreatitis, diagnosis can typically be somewhat simple depending upon the severity of the symptoms. Unfortunately, while the condition is easy to diagnose, it can be difficult to treat.
People with extreme cases of the ailment may need to remain hospitalized depending upon the severity of the symptoms.
Doctors may administer pain medicines and fluids through an IV while patients are hospitalized, in addition to transforming their diet.
The key to recovering is to change lifestyle habits that have exacerbated inflammation and further development of Chronic Pancreatitis.
Because of this, doctors will often insert a tube through the nasal cavity or the mouth to empty the contents of the stomach completely.
Following this, a patient will no longer be given food or drink by mouth in order to limit activity in the pancreas until an oral diet can be reintroduced.
Consuming a healthy diet is one of the most important steps to recovering from Chronic Pancreatitis. Typically, it is important for an individual to consult a nutritionist due to the sensitivity of their digestive tract, ensuring that their diet will not aggravate their symptoms and will instead aid in the recovery process.
A person with this condition should make sure that they are drinking plenty of fluids, consuming foods low in fat, eating small, frequent meals, limiting caffeine intake and receiving enough vitamins and nutrients through either the food, or by taking supplements. Pancreatic enzymes may also be prescribed, helping to digest food and promote weight gain.
Surgery is only a treatment option in the most severe cases of Chronic Pancreatitis. This is especially true if there is a blockage found, meaning that some, or all, of a patient’s pancreas must be removed. It is important to remember that this is an extreme solution only offered to those who truly need it.
Confronting the Challenges of Chronic Pancreatitis
As in the cases of many chronic conditions, Chronic Pancreatitis poses many emotional and mental repercussions in handling the pain and discomfort of the ailment itself.
Physical health and mental health are interrelated, and if an individual can cope with their condition and remain positive, their symptoms may lessen in severity.
It is important for individuals with Chronic Pancreatitis to maintain as much of their normal life as is possible.
Living in depression or denial of a condition can only push away those that a person needs the most during their most difficult times.
Similarly, it is important to stay close to family and friends who can provide much-needed support during treatment.
One of the best things that people with chronic pain can do is to find a hobby that they genuinely enjoy. Not only does this distract a person from their pain, but it can also lessen pain by improving the mental condition of a person suffering from conditions like Chronic Pancreatitis.
If a hobby isn’t an appealing option, a person can always consider joining a support group. This is a great way to connect with others who are experiencing the same trials and tribulations, which can make a person feel considerably better about what they are going through.
Possible Prognosis for Chronic Pancreatitis
The prognosis for Chronic Pancreatitis can be positive. For those who are responsible for the factors that have led to the development of the condition, seeking help for alcohol addiction is the only way to prevent the condition from worsening.
Chronic Pancreatitis is an extremely serious disease that can lead to disability and death if left untreated.
However, should a person dedicate them self to the recovery process, Chronic Pancreatitis can be overcome, allowing an individual to lead a normal life free from the chronic pain of Pancreatitis.