Pancreatitis

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Prevention, Early Detection, and Treatment

Pancreatitis demands prompt medical attention. During an acute attack, there is the potential for the pancreas to be severely damaged within a matter of hours and complications can be life-threatening.

Acute Pancreatitis
It is not possible to prevent attacks of acute pancreatitis attacks or to detect them early.

Patients are admitted to hospital. Treatment consists of pain control until symptoms subside and "resting" the pancreas for several days to a few weeks by giving all fluids and nutrition intravenously (IV). If the acute pancreatitis is due to gallstones, surgery may be used to remove the gallbladder at a later date.

Chronic Pancreatitis
Chronic pancreatitis is treated by trying to prevent future attacks to minimize further pancreatic damage, and by providing treatment for damage already done. Abstention from alcohol is critical in helping to prevent additional attacks. If there is evidence of impaired fat absorption, a low fat diet may be prescribed and pancreatic enzymes may be given by mouth. The patient may also need to supplement fat-soluble vitamins. Glucose (blood sugar) is often monitored. If the patient becomes diabetic, treatment is with insulin injections. Tablets that stimulate insulin production do not usually work because of damage to the insulin producing cells in the pancreas.

Analgesics are an important part of treatment as patients often have persistent moderate to severe pain. Some need treatment for depression. As time progresses and pancreas function diminishes, the pain level may drop.

Surgery may be necessary to relieve obstructions to the pancreatic or biliary ducts and sometimes to remove part or the entire pancreas. It should be noted that the pancreas is very difficult to operate on and requires a surgeon experienced in pancreatic surgery.

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