Understanding and Managing Pancreatitis


Without a pancreas, you cannot completely digest food, which would leave you malnourished. Additionally, since the pancreas regulates blood sugar, you would have diabetes without one.

A properly functioning pancreas creates digestive enzymes, which are made and released in an inactive, harmless form into the small intestine where the process of digestion begins. Pancreatitis occurs when these enzymes become activated before leaving the pancreas, essentially beginning to digest the organ and causing inflammation. The condition can be acute or chronic and leave you suffering from bouts of severe abdominal pain, negatively impacting your quality of life. In this guide, we’ll look at the basics of pancreatitis, how genetics can play a role in it and how genetics may influence your treatment options, strategies to cope and more.

The pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach and it provides two critical functions for your body:

  • 1. It makes and releases digestive enzymes to break down food in your digestive tract

  • 2. It regulates your blood sugar by releasing insulin and other hormones.

What is Pancreatitis?


Forms of Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis can be acute, recurrent or chronic. Acute pancreatitis occurs suddenly. Patients with acute pancreatitis typically present with severe abdominal pain and usually require emergency medical treatment. Some people who have had one attack of acute pancreatitis can go on to have several more attacks. This is called recurrent acute pancreatitis. Recurrent attacks of acute pancreatitis can lead to chronic pancreatitis. Chronic pancreatitis is a long-lasting condition where the health of the pancreas worsens over time. Patients with chronic pancreatitis may have chronic pain, trouble digesting their food, and can develop diabetes. It is diagnosed by imaging studies that show specific changes to the pancreas.

Symptoms of Pancreatitis

Symptoms of pancreatitis can vary widely between individuals.

  • Severe upper abdominal pain which may be constant or episodic
  • Fever
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Oily, smelly stools that may or may not be diarrhea
  • If you think you

Risk Factors of Pancreatitis

In the past, pancreatitis was assumed to be mainly caused by heavy alcohol use.
However, this misconception has been debunked by more recent research findings that suggest that less than 10% of heavy alcohol users develop it. We now know there are various risk factors for causing pancreatitis. Additionally, pancreatitis can contribute to the risk of developing other serious complications.

Risk Factors

Male birth sex
  • African American
  • Having a family history of pancreatitis
  • Having a personal or family history of gallstones
  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Hereditary genetic disorders of the pancreas
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Combinations of common genetic risk factors

Contributing Factors

  • Diabetes
  • Gallstones
  • High triglycerides
  • Traumatic injury to the pancreas
  • Certain medications
  • Pancreatic cancer
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Understanding and Managing Pancreatitis: A Guide for Patients

Pancreatitis is a complex condition, and depending on the cause, treatment can vary. In the rest of this guide, you’ll learn more about how you can manage pancreatitis including:

  • How genetics plays a role in pancreatitis
  • How genetics affects your treatment
  • Ways to cope with pancreatitis
  • Ways to advocate for yourself and more

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