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What is pancreatitis: types, symptoms, causes and treatment

Travis Barker was hospitalized yesterday, and today reports confirmed that the Blink-182 drummer (and Kourtney Kardashian’s husband) had pancreatitis. The cause is not yet clear, but this is certain: pancreatitis can be a serious and painful experience. The condition occurs when the pancreas (an organ that produces enzymes to help the body digest its food) becomes inflamed causing stomach pain, nausea, etc. In fact, Barker apparently knew he needed to go to the hospital when he felt “severe pain in his abdomen and it really concerned him and Kourtney,” a source told ET. A brief overview of what pancreatitis is and what causes it, here.

What is pancreatitis?

Your stomach absorbs food, and your pancreas — a small organ behind your stomach, next to your small intestine — helps digest it. It releases digestive enzymes to help process food and releases glucagon and insulin which help your body break down food into energy. “Pancreatitis occurs when digestive enzymes are activated while they’re still in the pancreas, irritating your pancreas cells and causing inflammation,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

What usually causes pancreatitis?

Gallstones account for up to 70% of acute pancreatitis cases, according to an UpToDate article written by Santhi Swaroop Vege, MD. Up to 25% of acute cases are linked to chronic alcohol abuse. Medications, high triglycerides, cystic fibrosis, high calcium levels, infections and injuries are all other possible causes of the problem, reports the Mayo Clinic. Although it’s possible for procedures like colonoscopies to cause acute pancreatitis, it’s thought to be very rare, according to a case report published in The Cureus Journal of Medical Science. It is possible that during a colonoscopy, the pancreas suffers trauma, which would then lead to inflammation.

Pancreatitis can also be chronic; this occurs when the acute inflammation has been treated, but the pancreas has suffered damage, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of acute pancreatitis can include:

  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Abdominal pain that radiates to the back
  • Tenderness to the touch of the abdomen
  • Fever
  • fast pulse
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Signs and symptoms of chronic pancreatitis also include upper abdominal pain, in addition to abdominal pain that worsens after eating, unintentional weight loss, and fatty or foul-smelling stools (aka steatorrhea).

How is pancreatitis treated?

Pancreatitis is serious and if you think you have it you should see your doctor as soon as possible. Acute attacks may require treatment with pain medication, IV fluids to prevent dehydration, a diet of clear fluids and bland foods while your pancreas recovers, and sometimes even a feeding tube, reports the Mayo Clinic. Your doctors will also try to determine the cause of the episode and treat it to prevent it from happening again. So, if gallstones were the cause of acute pancreatitis, you may need gallbladder removal surgery. In the case of chronic pancreatitis, patients may need additional pain management treatment, digestive enzyme supplements, and dietary changes.