• Living With Pancreatitis

    Acute pancreatitis is mainly caused by gallstone obstruction of the pancreatic duct or by alcohol. Other causes include certain drugs, high levels of fat, viral infections such as mumps or in some cases it may run in families. Chronic pancreatitis is mainly caused by chronic alcohol intake in adults or cystic fibrosis in the young. In some cases pancreatitis is genetic. Obesity is a well-known risk factor for developing severe, acute pancreatitis. The "obesity epidemic" of the western world will likely increase the total number of patients within the next few decades.

    Managing Your Symptoms

    There are two forms of pancreatitis. The acute form occurs suddenly and can be very severe and lead to death. After successful treatment of acute pancreatitis, the gland usually recovers completely. 

    Chronic (long term) pancreatitis occurs when there is continuous damage to the pancreas that can lead to ongoing pain and a permanent decrease in its function. Those suffering from chronic pancreatitis may need pain management, IV hydration, and nutritional support. Synthetic pancreatic enzymes that may need to be taken with every meal to help the person digest food and regain some weight may be part of the ongoing treatment. People with chronic pancreatitis are strongly advised not to smoke or consume alcoholic beverages, even if the pancreatitis is mild or in the early stages.

    Treatment Options

    Patients with acute pancreatitis are usually admitted to hospital where they are kept without eating or drinking. They receive fluid through a vein (intravenous). This allows the pancreas to rest. A tube may be placed through the nose down into the stomach to remove fluids and help with the nausea and vomiting. Pain killers are given to relieve the pain. 

    When the pancreatitis is caused by a gallstone, it can be removed by an endoscopic procedure called ERCP. This technique involves passing a thin flexible tube called an endoscope through the mouth into the small intestine where the pancreas empties its digestive enzymes. Most people feel better within a few days, after which time liquid can be started and low-fat, solid food can be added. 

    Patients with chronic pancreatitis may need frequent pain medications, especially if alcohol intake is not stopped. Because the pancreas is permanently damaged, there may be a need for enzyme replacement to compensate for the lack of digestive enzymes. In severe cases there may be a need for insulin injections to control blood sugar. In very severe cases, surgery may be required.

Enhancing lifelong health

The Canadian Digestive Health Foundation believes our ability to help establish, enrich and protect a healthy gut microbiota is the key to lifelong health