The pancreas is a gland that is involved in the production of certain enzymes. These enzymes aid in the process of digestion. The pancreas also produces hormones which are involved in the processing of glucose in the body. The pancreas, which is located in the upper abdomen, may sometimes become inflamed due to various factors. This condition is known as pancreatitis. Pancreatitis may be acute, in which case it develops suddenly and persists for some days, or it can be chronic in which case it develops over a period of many years. Mild pancreatitis may subside on its own without treatment. Severe pancreatitis may sometimes lead to serious complications.

Symptoms of Pancreatitis

The symptoms of pancreatitis depend on the type of condition. The common signs and symptoms of acute pancreatitis include:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen
  • Pain that extends to the back
  • Pain that becomes aggravated after eating
  • Tenderness when the abdomen is touched
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dry heaves

Chronic pancreatitis symptoms include:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen. The pain may worsen when coughing or while breathing deeply. Any vigorous movement may also trigger severe pain. You may find relief when sitting upright.
  • Weight loss
  • Problems in digestion
  • Steatorrhea, which refers to the presence of excess fat in the stools. This causes the stools to become oily and foul smelling.
  • Acute pancreatitis which is caused by gallstones may lead to pain that begins suddenly and then becomes severe in a few minutes. When the cause is alcoholism, the pain may occur over a few days and then stays steady for a few more days. It is important to see a doctor if you experience severe or continuing pain in the abdomen. Call for immediate medical care in case the pain becomes so severe that you are unable to sit in one position.

    Causes of Pancreatitis

    The pancreas is responsible for producing the digestive enzymes. These enzymes pass through small tubes in the pancreas and move towards the small intestine. The enzymes are activated in the small intestine where they assist in digestion. Pancreatitis occurs when the enzymes activate while still inside the pancreas. This can lead to irritation to the pancreatic cells, damage and inflammation. If acute pancreatitis occurs repeatedly, the damage can increase and the condition could become chronic. It may also lead to the formation of scar tissue inside the pancreas, thereby hampering the functioning of the pancreas. If the pancreas is unable to function properly, it can lead to poor digestion and also diabetes.

    There are various causes of pancreatitis. Some of the most common causes include:

    • Intake of certain medications
    • Abdominal surgery
    • Gallstones
    • Excessive alcohol consumption
    • Smoking
    • Cystic fibrosis
    • Infection
    • Abdominal injury
    • Cancer of the pancreas
    • High amounts of calcium in the bloodstream
    • High amounts of parathyroid hormone in the blood
    • High triglyceride levels
    • Family history of pancreatitis

    Pancreatitis can result in some serious complications:

    • Pancreatitis can trigger certain chemical changes in the body and this could affect the manner in which the lungs function. This can lead to reduced levels of oxygen in the blood.
    • Pancreatitis results in inflammation that damages the cells which produce insulin. This can lead to diabetes.
    • Repeated bouts of pancreatitis can make the pancreas prone to infections. These infections can be severe and may require surgical treatment to extract the infected tissue.
    • Kidney failure may occur due to acute pancreatitis. Severe kidney failure requires treatment through dialysis.
    • Pancreatitis can result in the production of reduced levels of enzymes. These enzymes are responsible for digesting the food you eat and processing the nutrients from it. Low levels of enzymes can lead to poor nutrition, weight loss and diarrhea.
    • Chronic pancreatitis may increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
    • Recurring pancreatitis can lead to the formation of cysts. These cysts may lead to internal bleeding if they rupture.

    Remedies for Pancreatitis

    Hospital care is usually needed in case of pancreatitis. Treatment for pancreatitis involves administration of analgesics to alleviate the pain. Symptoms such as nausea and vomiting may be relieved with the help of intravenous drugs in case of severe pancreatitis. The individual also needs to rest in order to give the pancreas some rest. Normal eating can begin again after a couple of days. Once the condition is brought under control, the underlying cause of the condition can be treated. Following hospitalization, there are certain measures which you need to take. This will enable proper recovery. These measures include:

    • Discontinue alcohol consumption. There are various programs which help individuals to stop drinking alcohol. You can seek your doctor’s advice about which program is right for you.
    • If you smoke, quit the habit immediately. Those who find it difficult to quit on their own can seek counseling or medication.
    • One of the best pancreatitis home remedies is healthy diet. Your diet should be low in fat. Include plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean protein foods and whole grains.
    • You may suffer from dehydration due to pancreatitis and hence it is important to drink plenty of water.
    • Natural healing remedies for pancreatitis include olive leaf extract which has anti-inflammatory properties. It is helpful in reducing the symptoms of pancreatitis.
    • You can also use dandelion root as it is beneficial for the health of the pancreas and helps to regulate bile production.
    • Other herbs such as milk thistle, red clover and burdock root are also known to be effective in treating pancreatitis. These herbs have a cleansing effect on the liver and blood. This prevents overworking of the pancreas.

    Diet for Pancreatitis

    The chronic pancreatitis diet should include certain beneficial foods. These include:

    • Yogurt: The live bacteria which are present in yogurt help to regulate the balance in the digestive system. They also help in strengthening the immune system and thus protect the body from inflammation.
    • Spinach: Spinach is loaded with antioxidants which help to boost immunity. You can consume spinach in a variety of ways such as in salads or stir fries.
    • Vegetable Soup: Vegetables are full of antioxidants and thus good for the pancreas. Soups are also beneficial in keeping the body hydrated. Tomato soups and broths are a great addition to the diet.
    • Blueberries: The antioxidants contained in blueberries help in destroying the free radicals which can aggravate pancreatitis.
    • Red Grapes: Red grapes contain resveratrol which is an important antioxidant. Make it a point to consume red grapes daily. Red wine is also rich in this antioxidant, however alcohol may cause irritation to the pancreas and hence it is best to avoid it.
    • Tofu: Pancreatitis may occur when there are large amount of fat in the bloodstream. Therefore meat must be eliminated from the diet. You can substitute meat with tofu as it is a healthy protein source.
    • Red Reishi Mushrooms: These mushrooms help in controlling and preventing inflammation.
    • Other foods such as bread, rice, oatmeal and soy may also be added to the pancreatitis diet.
    • Herbs such as ginger root, ginseng and Indian gooseberry are also important additions to the diet as they help in managing the symptoms of pancreatitis. Always consult a doctor before taking any herbs or supplements.
    • It is very important that the diet for pancreatitis should be low in fat. The daily total intake of fat should not exceed 40g. It is advisable to consume smaller portions of food frequently during the day.
    • There are certain foods which should be eliminated from the diet. These include caffeine, butter, eggs, beans, tobacco and spicy foods. These foods are known to result in gas formation and can irritate the pancreas.
    • Individuals with pancreatitis may have deficiencies of nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, magnesium and selenium. Your doctor may also ask you to include vitamin B12 in your diet.
    • Diets that are high in sugary foods such as cookies or candies can lead to sugar accumulation in the body. The body needs to process this sugar rapidly and this can result in a sugar imbalance which causes diabetes. This fluctuation of blood sugar levels may lead to damage to the pancreas.

    Suggestions for Pancreatitis

    Certain alternative treatments may not be effective in treating pancreatitis, but may be helpful in managing the pain and discomfort that the condition causes. Chronic pancreatitis may lead to pain that does not improve even after taking medications. These alternative therapies may help to control the pain to some extent. Some good examples of alternative therapies include yoga, meditation and relaxation exercises. The pain may also be reduced with vitamin and mineral supplements such as vitamin A, vitamin C and selenium. Talk to your doctor before taking any supplements. Massage and detoxification of the body can also help to cope with symptoms of pancreas since they help to eliminate toxins from the body.

    Pancreatitis - Frequently asked questions