Definition of Pancreas Pain
The pancreas is a large gland located next to the small intestine, and directly behind the stomach. The pancreas is majorly responsible for two things. Firstly, the pancreas aids the digestion of your body by releasing certain digestive enzymes to your small intestine. Second, the pancreas releases the hormone known as insulin, as well as glucagon into your bloodstream. Insulin and glucagon help your body to break down and control how your food is turned into energy.
Sometimes, you may experience pain that you may think is from your pancreas. You can feel this when the pain emanates from where your pancreas is located. This is known as pancreatic pain. Pancreatic pain can be caused by many different factors and can be a symptom of some underlying condition that is directly associated with your pancreas.
Some of the more well known or common disorders associated with pancreas are acute pancreatitis, chronic pancreatitis, hereditary pancreatitis, and lastly, pancreatic cancer, but perhaps the most common cause of pancreatic pain is pancreatitis.
Causes of Pancreatic pain
Experiencing pain in your pancreas can be caused by a variety of factors. Moreover, pancreatic pain can be indicative of another condition related to your pancreas. Some of the most common causes of pain in the pancreas are listed below:
- Inflammation of Pancreas – When you are experiencing pancreatic pain, it may be a sign that your pancreas is inflamed. This is also known as pancreatitis and is one of the most leading causes of pain in relation to the pancreas.
- Improper Activation of Digestive Enzymes – This is another cause of pancreatic pain, and perhaps the most common cause of pancreatitis. What happens is that the digestive enzymes that should be activated once they enter the small intestine are already active in the pancreas itself. This causes the cells of the pancreas to be irritated causing inflammation.
- Hereditary – Some cases of pancreatic pain, especially in pancreatitis, can be caused by inherited abnormalities in the pancreas and the intestine. If you are under 30 years old and you are already experiencing pain in your pancreas, hereditary pancreatitis may be the cause. Having hereditary pancreatitis is a major cause for concern as it is a progressive disease that can lead to many permanent problems.
- Pancreatic Cancer – Pancreatic cancer can also be the cause of pain in your pancreas. Having pancreatic cancer is not an easily noticeable condition, as pain in your pancreas tends to be a rare symptom. Pancreatic cancer is usually signaled by painless jaundice, a yellowing discoloration of your skin. So if the pain you are experiencing comes with jaundice, then you need to get yourself immediately checked.
- Heavy Alcohol Use
- Metabolic Disorders
- Cystic Fibrosis
Risk Factors of Pancreatic Pain
Anyone can experience pancreas pain in their lifetime, but certain factors can increase your risk of having it. These are some risk factors most commonly associated with pancreatic pain:
- Heavy Alcohol Drinking – Heavy alcohol drinking, especially when you have been doing it for a long time, leaves you exposed to the inflammation of your pancreas that can cause pancreas pain.
- Gallstones – Having gallstones can increase your risk of having pancreas pain as gallstones are another condition that can affect the natural balance of your digestive system.
- Hereditary – Having a history of pancreatitis and even certain diseases such as cystic fibrosis in any one of your family can mean that you are also at risk of experiencing pancreas pain. Hereditary pancreas pain can be a symptom of other underlying conditions.
- Infection – having an infection in any of the neighboring organs of your digestive system can leave you at risk for the infection of your pancreas.
- Having certain conditions such as High Triglycerides and lupus.
Complications Involved with Pancreas Pain
Pain in your pancreas can lead to a number of complications. This is because pancreas pain can be a sign of an underlying condition that involves your pancreas. Complications involved with pancreatic pain can be any of the things below:
- Pancreatitis – As mentioned before, pancreatic pain can be a sign that your pancreas is inflamed. An inflamed pancreas is also known as pancreatitis and can be both acute or chronic. Acute pancreatitis is the sudden inflammation of your pancreas that lasts only for a short while. The pain associated with acute pancreatitis is listed as ranging from mild discomfort to massive discomfort that can be severe and life-threatening. Chronic Pancreatitis is as the name suggests, a long-lasting and recurring inflammation of the pancreas.
- Pancreatic Cancer – Experiencing pain in your pancreas can indicate that you have pancreatic cancer, although pancreatic cancer will rarely have pancreas pain as one of its symptoms.
What Causes Pain in Pancreas: Symptoms and Diagnostic Procedures
What are the Most Common Pancreas Pain Symptoms?
- Pain In The Area Where Your Pancreas is located
- Abdominal Pain – In the case where you don’t know where the pancreas is located in your abdomen if you ever feel that the pain is from your upper abdomen, more than likely what you are experiencing is a pancreas pain symptom. Moreover, another common pancreas pain symptom is experiencing pain in your abdomen that radiates to your back, as well as experiencing abdominal pain that gets much more painful after eating.
- Tenderness in your Upper Abdomen – to be swollen or inflamed, causing it to be tender to the touch.
- Weight Loss – Some conditions directly linked to pain in the pancreas can cause you to lose weight without trying, conditions such as chronic and acute pancreatitis.
- Nausea – Pain in your pancreas can often be accompanied by nausea. Nausea often comes hand in hand with fever.
- Oily, Smelly Stools – also known as steatorrhea
- Rapid Pulse – Your pulse is likely to rapidly increase as some conditions that are associated with pain in the pancreas may induce increased heart rate
- Vomiting – Vomiting goes hand in hand with nausea and can also be a valid pancreas pain symptom.
How are Pancreas Pain Symptoms Diagnosed?
12 Common Diagnostic Procedures
Pancreas pain can be diagnosed in any number of ways. Depending on the doctor, he/she can subject you to various diagnostic procedures to diagnose the pain in your pancreas and what may be the cause of such pain. Some of these diagnostic procedures are listed below:
- CBC – CBC or complete blood count is a common test to diagnose a number of other conditions, but in this case, they can also be used to diagnose certain conditions directly associated with pain in your pancreas. The blood test this time measures the levels of two digestive enzymes in your blood, namely: amylase and lipase. The presence of high levels of these enzymes in your blood may signal that you have pancreatitis, a leading cause of pain in the pancreas.
- Pancreatic Function Test – can also be used to find out if your pancreas is functioning correctly. The pancreatic function test works by measuring if the pancreas is producing the right amounts of digestive enzymes
- Secretin Stimulation Test – done by placing a tube down your throat into the stomach, then proceeding into the upper part of your small intestine. Along with that, Secretin is administered by injection.
- Ultrasound – an ultrasound can produce images of the pancreas to determine if there is an inflammation or if cysts are present.
- MRI – or Magnetic Resonance Imaging can also be used to produce images of your pancreas.
- CT Scan – or Computerized tomography is essentially the same as Ultrasound and MRI, can produce images of your pancreas to determine any problems.
- Glucose tolerance Test – This test can be used to measure if your pancreas is making enough insulin. The pancreas’ inability to produce the right amounts of insulin can be a sign of damage in its cells.
- Biopsy – Biopsy involves inserting a needle into the pancreas through your abdomen, in order to remove a small amount of tissue. This tissue sample is then subjected to studies and tests to determine what is causing the pain in your pancreas.
- Stool Tests – Diagnosing pancreatic pain symptoms can also be done by examining your stool sample. High levels of fat in your stool may suggest that your digestive system isn’t functioning well enough, and coupled with pancreas pain symptoms, can allude to a more serious condition.
- Fecal Elastase Test – This type of test is similar to a stool test, but seeks only to measure one enzyme, namely elastase that is present in the fluids secreted by the pancreas.
- ERCP – ERCP is short for endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography. This test is done to diagnose disease in your gallbladder, biliary system, in your liver, but most importantly, in your pancreas. This takes a look at the previously mentioned organs primarily with the use of x-rays.
Pancreas Pain: Treatment and Care
8 Treatments for Pancreatitis: How Pain in the Pancreas is Remedied
After having been diagnosed with pain in the pancreas, and/or possibly any other condition associated with your pancreas, that comes along with it, you might need to get yourself treated.
The first treatment for pancreatitis that should be done after experiencing the pain itself is to get yourself hospitalized. In the hospital, you will be properly treated and further diagnosed with any other illness your pancreas might have. Your attending physician can then choose any treatment for pancreatitis that perfectly fits your condition, and in some cases might present you with a number of treatments for pancreatitis you can choose from. Some common treatment for pancreatitis that is being practised today is:
- Pain Relievers – your attending physician may choose to prescribe you with a number of pain relievers to primarily treat the pain you are experiencing. This is because some cases of pain in the pancreas such as pancreatitis can cause you severe pain.
- Antibiotics – Antibiotics can also be prescribed to you in the case of infection in your pancreas.
- Fasting – Another treatment for pancreatitis that is considered effective by most is fasting. Fasting involves not eating for a couple of days, especially when you are in the hospital. This allows the pancreas a chance to recover by giving it a break from the process of releasing digestive enzymes.
- IV Fluids – The doctor may also choose to subject you to intravenous fluids, especially when you are fasting since you won’t be eating any solid food. Intravenous fluids will be your main source of nutrients for this duration. Intravenous fluids are ideal so that the energy that your body would otherwise devote to digesting and breaking down food can be redirected to repairing your pancreas.
- Pancreas Surgery – To rid yourself once and for all of the pain you are feeling in your pancreas, you may choose to undergo the treatment for pancreatitis that involves surgery. The surgery done on pancreas involve the drainage of excess fluid from your pancreas. Surgery can also be done to remove diseased tissue, and/or repair damaged tissue.
- Bile Duct Obstruction Removal – Since the pancreas and the bile duct share many similarities in terms of function, and they work together in close proximity, any illness that might affect the bile duct or obstruct its passageway can directly affect your pancreas. An effective treatment for pancreatitis for this situation would be the removal of bile duct obstructions through procedures such as ERCP. ERCP as discussed before stands for endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography.
- Gallbladder Surgery – as is the same with the Bile duct, the pancreas, and the gallbladder share many of the same functions together, and are in close proximity to each other. Since one of the primary causes of pain in the pancreas is gallstones, an effective treatment for pancreatitis would be the removal of gallstones from your gallbladder.
- Alcoholism Treatment – since another one of the leading causes of pain in the pancreas is the heavy consumption of alcohol, treatment for a person’s dependence on alcohol can be a viable treatment for pancreatitis.
Aftercare Steps to be taken for Pancreas Pain
After undergoing treatment for pancreatitis, you can take on necessary steps to maintain healthy pancreas. Some of the aftercare methods that you can do after receiving treatment for pancreatitis are:
- Take Supplements – There are supplements out there that can help improve the function of your pancreas. Pancreatic enzyme supplements can assist your body in the processing and break down of nutrients taken from the food you eat. Most pancreatic enzyme supplements are taken 3 times a day, in correspondence with each meal.
- Implement Changes in Your Diet – Try to avoid eating fatty foods now, and engage in a low-fat diet so as to not subject your pancreas to strain. If you have undergone surgery, then you could choose to eat small meals throughout the day rather than eating a lot of meals. This is because the function of your pancreas has already been compromised, and eating small meals throughout the day can help you lessen the strain you subject your pancreas too. You can consult with your doctor so that he can refer you to a licensed dietician that can help you plan your meals.
- Lessen Consumption of Alcohol – Try to exercise control when drinking alcohol, and try not to drink copious amounts at a time. Alcohol is good with moderation, but in excess can potentially harm your pancreas all over again.
- Drink more fluids – Avoid alcohol, but by all means indulge in all other fluids, especially water. You can help avoid pancreas pain by constantly rehydrating yourself throughout the day.
- Stop Smoking – in addition to the moderation of alcohol consumption, you should stop smoking tobacco. This helps your body heal more quickly especially right after a treatment for pancreatitis.