Pancreatitis, or an inflamed pancreas, can have serious consequences on the human body. The condition comes in two forms: acute and chronic, both of which can lead to serious symptoms. When pancreatitis strikes, can the pancreas heal itself? Can the condition be prevented and what is the treatment? Renowned surgeon Professor Hemant Kocher explains.
Can pancreatitis heal itself?
Acute pancreatitis is a self-limiting condition. In most instances, the pancreas heals itself and normal pancreatic functions of digestion and sugar control are restored. In some patients, there may be complications from acute pancreatitis that require further treatment, such a blocked bile duct, infections in the pancreas, injury to surrounding organs like the bowel.
Chronic pancreatitis destroys pancreas function, and requires medical management. Chronic pancreatitis cannot heal itself, but good medical management can slow down the rate of decline of pancreatic function, while improving the individual’s quality of life and preventing further problems arising.
How can pancreatitis be prevented?
The single biggest cause of pancreatitis is alcohol. Therefore, those individuals diagnosed with alcohol-related acute or chronic pancreatitis should avoid alcohol, even the smallest amount, to prevent further damage to the pancreas.
For those individuals with gallstone-related pancreatitis, it may be best to remove the gallbladder, as that is the site of gallstone formation, after ensuring that the bile duct is clear of gallstones. This requires expert medical intervention. In the interim, the person should avoid fat in the diet.
For people with high lipids or calcium in bloodstream, medications can be started to normalise those levels. For drug-induced pancreatitis, where possible, alternative medications can be started with expert medical help.
There are no medications to change the course of acute pancreatitis or make it better sooner, except removing gallstones from a blocked bile duct, if that is the cause.
Medical management of acute pancreatitis is aimed at symptom control such as reduction of pain, nausea, vomiting, and dehydration as well as prevention of complications. Whilst most cases of acute pancreatitis are mild and can be managed by general surgeons or gastroenterologists, severe pancreatitis should be referred to specialist teams.
Chronic pancreatitis, once established, does not go away. There are no medications to make the pancreas normal again. However, with adequate medical management, it may be possible to limit the damage from chronic pancreatitis, reduce the rate of decline of pancreatic function, and prevent complications. Therefore, patients with chronic pancreatitis should be managed by specialist teams.
If you think you may have pancreatitis, visit Professor Kocher's profile to book an appointment.