This summer we went to visit my senior in-laws for a week. We had a fun filled week planned with outings, game nights and nice dinners. But this all changed after only two days when my 82 year old father-in-law became very ill. He had bad episodes of vomiting and excruciating stomach pains —we didn’t waste time we got him to the ER right away.
It really didn’t take very long for the doctors to diagnose that he was suffering from Pancreatitis the thing that took some time was figuring out what was causing it. Turns out he had gallstones and these were causing havoc on his pancreas and were the cause of all the problems.
Our week long trip turned into a four week long stay as we communicated with his doctors and helped the family navigate the stressful time.
After 4 long weeks in the hospital he was finally able to have surgery to remove his gallbladder and I’m happy to say my father-in-law is home and doing well. With all this I’ve learned a lot about Pancreatitis, causes and a few things that you can do to help prevent it. Here is some of the key things I learned this summer.
What is Pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed and the digestive enzymes that should only be active inside the intestines start “digesting” the pancreas itself. This condition is not only painful but also interfere with your digestion and prevent food from being properly absorbed, which can lead to nausea, vomiting, bloating, fever, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
As a result of pancreatitis, can cause serious nutritional deficiencies and weight loss.
Pancreatitis can be acute (meaning it occurs suddenly) or chronic (i.e., long term). Usually acute pancreatitis will go away in a few days with dietary changes.
Inflammation of the pancreas that gets worse over time is considered chronic pancreatitis. Persistent or chronic pancreatitis can damage the pancreas and lead to other complications.
All symptoms of pancreatitis should be treated with the advice of your doctor.
What are the Symptoms?
Signs and symptoms of pancreatitis can vary, depending on which type you experience.
Acute pancreatitis signs and symptoms include:
- Upper abdominal pain
- Abdominal pain that radiates to your back
- Tenderness when touching the abdomen
- Rapid pulse
Chronic pancreatitis signs and symptoms include:
- Upper abdominal pain
- Abdominal pain that feels worse after eating
- Losing weight without trying
- Oily, smelly stools (steatorrhea)
What are the Causes?
Conditions that can lead to acute pancreatitis include:
- Gallstones (Like in the case of my father-in-law)
- Certain medications
- High triglyceride levels in the blood (hypertriglyceridemia)
- High calcium levels in the blood (hypercalcemia), which may be caused by an overactive parathyroid gland (hyperparathyroidism)
- Pancreatic cancer
- Abdominal surgery
- Cystic fibrosis
- Injury to the abdomen
- Sometimes, a cause for pancreatitis is never found. This is known as idiopathic pancreatitis.
Can it be Prevented?
There are ways you can protect your pancreas and reduce your risk for pancreatitis.
1. Limit alcohol consumption. Drinking less, you can help protect your pancreas from the toxic effects of alcohol and reduce your risk for pancreatitis.
2. Low-fat diet. To reduce your risk for gallstones, eat a low-fat diet that includes whole grains and a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. To help prevent pancreatitis, avoid fatty or fried foods and full-fat dairy products.
3. Regular exercise & weight loss. People who are overweight are more likely to develop gallstones, which leads to a greater risk for acute pancreatitis. Losing extra pounds gradually and maintaining a healthy weight by eating a balanced diet and engaging in regular physical activity can help prevent gallstones from forming.
4. No fad diets. The key to losing weight is to do it gradually. When you go into crash-diet mode, prompting quick weight loss, your liver ramps up cholesterol production in response, which increases your risk for gallstones.
5. No smoking. Adults who smoked are 1.5 times more likely to develop acute or chronic pancreatitis than nonsmokers. No smoking / quitting can reduce your risk.
This summer was a wakeup call for my family and we have all decided to make a few changes to our own diets. We learned that pancreatitis can be a serious condition and lead to many other issues. So, if you have risk factors for pancreatitis or have experienced symptoms in the past, it’s time to make some lifestyle changes to prevent it from occurring in the future.