Symptoms of acute pancreatitis tend to appear without warning, and you may suddenly feel severe pain in the upper part of the abdomen. In contrast, the signs of chronic inflammation are less obvious and last longer.
The pancreas is often exposed to inflammation for many reasons. Pancreatitis may be acute or chronic, meaning that symptoms of pancreatitis may appear suddenly within a few days and heals quickly when treated (acute inflammation). Pancreatitis may occur in the form of symptoms and signs lasting for several years (chronic inflammation).
The pancreas is a long gland in the abdominal area behind the stomach. This gland secretes enzymes and digestive juices to help you digest food, and it also produces the hormone insulin, which controls your blood sugar and keeps it within normal limits. Let's learn more about pancreatitis and its acute and chronic symptoms with its causes.
What are the symptoms of acute pancreatitis?
The symptoms of acute pancreatitis may be mild or severe, depending on the severity of the inflammation. Some patients suffer from simple symptoms that improve quickly with treatment. This condition is usually the most common. At the same time, inflammation may be more severe in some cases and lead to serious complications such as pancreatic necrosis or the transformation of inflammation into the chronic type.
Signs of acute pancreatitis include:
Upper abdominal pain that radiates toward the back
Abdominal pain is often the first symptom felt by patients with pancreatitis. The pain appears suddenly in the acute type of pancreatitis and is located in the upper abdomen and may extend until it reaches the back area. It is usually very severe when touching the patient’s stomach or after eating.
Nausea and vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms of acute pancreatitis. They may be associated with other symptoms, such as a rapid heartbeat.
High temperature (fever)
As with most body inflammations, fever is a common symptom of acute pancreatitis. The patient's temperature may reach 39°C and may be associated with jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).
Loss of appetite
As a result of abdominal pain, which becomes more severe with eating, the patient with pancreatitis loses the desire to eat and drink, which may lead to weight loss. This symptom is seen more clearly in chronic pancreatitis.
Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis
Chronic pancreatitis is a permanent injury that causes the pancreas gland to not function correctly. It manifests in symptoms that last for a long time and may continue for life. Still, these symptoms can be controlled by following appropriate treatment.
Chronic pancreatitis may occur for many reasons, including recurrent acute pancreatitis, which may cause irreversible damage to the pancreas, or as a result of drinking large amounts of alcohol over long periods, which over time, leads to irritation and inflammation of the pancreas.
About the signs and symptoms of chronic pancreatitis, they are as follows:
- Abdominal pain that appears from time to time
- As the inflammation progresses, the pain become more frequent and take longer time to heal
- Unexplained weight loss
- Bad-smelling diarrhea (because the pancreas is not producing digestive enzymes)
- Abdominal cramps may be associated with nausea and vomiting
Causes of acute pancreatitis
Pancreatitis often occurs due to the activation of digestive enzymes while they are still within the pancreatic tissue, which irritates the pancreatic cells.
There are risk factors that increase the risk of acute pancreatitis, including the following:
One of the most common causes of pancreatitis is gallstones. Gallstones can slide into the gallbladder and block the bile duct, causing enzyme retention in the pancreas.
Studies have shown a close relationship between consuming large amounts of alcohol and an increased risk of developing pancreatitis. This is due to the toxic effect of alcohol on the small ducts of the pancreas, and the increase in the viscosity of secretions, which causes blockage of the ducts and the retention of enzymes.
Alcohol can cause acute and chronic pancreatitis, but it is more responsible for chronic pancreatitis.
High cholesterol is among the risk factors for pancreatitis due to the decrease of blood circulation in the small capillary vessels, which causes ischemia in the perfusion of pancreatic cells.
Use of certain medications
Some medical drugs may cause pancreatitis as one of the possible side effects of these drugs, especially when taken in excessive doses without consulting a doctor. Among these drugs are the following:
- Antihypertensive drugs
Many drugs can cause pancreatitis. When you are diagnosed with pancreatitis, the specialist will ask if you have recently taken new medications.
Trauma and previous surgeries
Traffic accidents or falling on the abdomen may cause damage to the pancreas, and the same applies to abdominal surgeries that carry the risk of accidental injury to the pancreas.
Causes of chronic pancreatitis
Chronic pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas is exposed to a permanent injury that leads to its failure to perform its normal bodily functions. Thus chronic symptoms of inflammation appear, which usually last for several years.
The most common cause of chronic pancreatitis in adults is excessive alcohol consumption over many years, causing frequent acute pancreatitis that leads to permanent damage to the pancreas.
As for chronic pancreatitis that affects children, the most common cause of its occurrence is Cystic fibrosis which is one of the genetic diseases that a child is born with and causes damage to many organs in the body, including the pancreas.
Autoimmune pancreatitis is also a significant cause of chronic pancreatitis. Your body's immunity may attack normal pancreatic cells and lead to inflammation in your pancreas.
20 to 30% of chronic pancreatitis is still idiopathic, but doctors have identified risk factors that may contribute to developing pancreatitis, including:
How is pancreatitis diagnosed?
To investigate pancreatitis, the specialist asks about your symptoms and then performs a physical examination by pressing on the abdomen to monitor your reactions and whether your abdominal pain increases or not.
One of the following tests is ordered to confirm the diagnosis:
When pancreatitis happens, the percentage of its enzymes in the blood increases, especially amylase and lipase. Therefore, Both of these enzymes are measured in the blood if there is suspicion of the possibility of pancreatitis, but the rise does not always indicate pancreatitis in all cases.
A white blood cell count and other blood tests are also helpful in pointing toward pancreatitis.
Ultrasound examination of the abdomen helps diagnose pancreatitis, through which the examiner can detect inflammatory changes in the pancreas or collection of stones in the gallbladder.
A CT scan gives a clear picture of the abdominal organs, such as the pancreas and gallbladder, to look for infections or gallstones.
A biopsy is rarely requested because previous tests are usually sufficient to diagnose pancreatitis. Pancreas cancer can be diagnosed by biopsy
This test is required in the case of chronic pancreatitis to measure the levels of fat in the patient's stool, which may indicate that food is not absorbed well due to an imbalance in the digestive juices of the pancreas.
In conclusion, the symptoms of acute and chronic pancreatitis are somewhat similar in terms of nature. Still, they differ in severity and the period required for the symptoms to disappear. We find that the symptoms of chronic pancreatitis last longer, but they are less severe than the symptoms of acute pancreatitis. In both types, abdominal pain extending Toward the back is the most common symptom. As for the causes, they are also similar, as gallstones and alcohol are the most common causes of pancreatitis.