The Pancreas

October being pancreatic cancer awareness month, we at International Medical Treatment Ltd (IMT) are taking this opportunity to educate you on some of the common disorders of the pancreas.

The pancreas is the gland in the human body located behind the stomach and in front of the spine, that:

  1. Produces juices to help in breakdown of food and
  2. Produces hormones that help in controlling blood sugar levels.

The pancreas is about 6 inches long with three main parts; the head, body and tail. It is made up of two kinds of tissues, namely, the endocrine and exocrine tissues which produce hormones; insulin and glucagon and digestive enzymes, respectively.

The hormones glucagon and insulin regulate the transport of glucose into the bloodstream while the enzymes digest proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

Common Diseases of the Pancreas

Pancreatic Cancer

This is a condition that causes inflammation in the pancreas and it can either be acute or chronic. It occurs when the digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas become activated while still in the pancreas destroying the tissues of the pancreas and causing inflammation.

In simpler terms, the digestive enzymes start digesting the pancreas itself. This can be caused by:

  • Health conditions like alcoholism, gallstones and cancer of the pancreas,
  • Smoking,
  • Family history with pancreatitis,
  • Hypercalcemia which refers to high levels of calcium in the blood which can be brought about by hyperthyroidism,
  • Abdominal injury, and
  • Certain medications can also increase the risk of pancreatitis, among other causes.

Types of Pancreatitis

  • Acute Pancreatitis: It usually occurs suddenly and lasts for days. Some of its symptoms are:

1. Abdominal pain that radiates to the back

2. Pain in the upper abdomen

3. Fever

4. Nausea

5. Rapid Pulse

  • Chronic Pancreatitis: This on the other hand, develops gradually and destroying the pancreas slowly. It is characterised by:

1. Persistent abdominal pain,

2. Unintentional loss of weight

3. Oily and smelly stool

Diagnosis of Pancreatitis

The diagnosis of this condition starts with checking the symptoms after which tests are done, including:

  • Stool test to measure the levels of fat especially in chronic pancreatitis which leads to lack of fat absorption into the digestive system,
  • Blood tests to check for elevated levels of pancreatic enzymes,
  • Imaging tests such as;

1. Abdominal and endoscopic ultrasound to look for gallstones and pancreatic inflammation, and blockages in the pancreatic duct or bile duct.

2. Computerised tomography (CT) scan to look for the presence of gallstones and the extent of pancreatic inflammation,

3. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to check for any abnormalities in the pancreas, ducts and the gallbladder.

Treatment of Pancreatitis

  • The initial treatment may involve: 

1. Fasting to give the pancreas the chance to recover

2. Taking pain medications if you are experiencing severe pain

3. Being put on Intravenous (IV) fluids to hydrate the body which might have become hydrated as the body tries to repair the pancreas

When the state of the pancreas is under control the following treatments can be done:

  • Surgery which can be of the either of the following: 

1. Pancreas surgery to drain the fluid from the pancreas or to remove the tissue with the disease.

2. Cholecystectomy which is surgery done to remove gallstones if present.

Procedure to remove bile duct obstructions which widen or open the bile duct which is blocked or narrowed.

Treating alcohol dependency if the pancreatitis is caused by excessive alcohol intake.

Additional treatments for chronic pancreatitis could include:

  • Taking supplements to provide pancreatic enzymes to help the body to break down and process nutrients in food.
  • Changing your diet to one that is low in fat and high in nutrients.
  • Taking pain medications to manage and control pain caused by this pancreatitis.

Pancreatic Insufficiency

This condition involves the inability of the pancreas to produce and transport digestive enzymes that break down food. It is also known as Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). It occurs due to progressive damage of the pancreas that can be caused by:

  • Conditions like cystic fibrosis, celiac disease and Crohn’s disease,
  • Chronic Pancreatitis which destroys the pancreas slowly

The symptoms for this condition include:

  • Diarrhoea,
  • Tenderness or pain in the belly,
  • Having gas in the stomach,
  • Feeling full fast
  • Foul smelling bowel movements

Diagnosis of Pancreatic Insufficiency

The diagnosis of this condition starts with checking the symptoms after which tests are done, including:

  • Blood test to check whether your body is getting enough vitamins and whether your pancreas is making enough enzymes.
  • Imaging tests like the CT scan, MRI and endoscopic ultrasound to check inside the body for any abnormalities.

Treatment of Pancreatic Insufficiency

This condition can be treated using through:

  1. Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (PERT) which is actually the main treatment for this condition that involves taking prescription pills to replace the enzymes not being produced by the pancreas.
  2. Eating a healthy diet is also important in dealing with pancreatic insufficiency. It should contain less fats.

Take good care of your pancreas by eating healthy, reducing alcohol intake if you take alcohol and not smoking, among other lifestyle change that will help to keep your pancreas healthy.

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We are here to help. By using IMT you will be assured of the following:

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