The pancreas is an organ that aids in digestion by releasing enzymes into the intestines and hormones into the blood stream. Pancreatitis is a condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed. Sometimes the inflammation is short-lived—for instance, when the tube to the intestines becomes blocked by a gallstone; this is called acute pancreatitis. Other times, the inflammatory process persists and can become progressive, over time leading to irreversible damage to the pancreas; this is called chronic pancreatitis.
The primary symptom of pancreatitis is abdominal pain, which can range from mild to severe. A severe case of acute pancreatitis can cause debilitating pain, but with treatment or resolution of the underlying cause, the inflammation and pain go away and there is little to no permanent damage to the pancreas. While the pain of chronic pancreatitis may be more mild, it tends to be longer-lasting and can significantly lower the individual’s quality of life. Other symptoms of pancreatitis include diarrhea, fatty stools, nausea and vomiting, and unexplained weight loss.
Treatment depends upon the cause of the pancreatitis and may include surgery to remove a gallstone or cessation of alcohol use, with pain medication taken to manage the pain.