The pancreas is an organ in the digestive system that is responsible for regulating blood sugar and secreting hormones and also produces enzymes involved in digestion. Pancreatitis is a painful illness affecting this organ that sends hundreds of thousands of Americans to the hospital each year. Gallstones cause the condition in the majority of cases. These stones in the bladder interrupt the normal flow of pancreatic fluid, causing pain and other symptoms.
Abdominal or stomach pain is the most identifiable pancreatitis symptom. The ache may be mild at first and often begins in the upper part of the stomach. Pain may spread into theback and even up to below the left shoulder blade and last for several days without treatment. Often, the pain is more severe when the individual is lying flat on her back. Lying in fetal position sometimes brings relief. Eating a meal, especially high-fat foods, may worsen the pain of pancreatitis.
Pain Levels Affected by Eating and Drinking Alcohol
If gallstones cause pancreatitis, stomach pain generally increases after eating a big meal or drinking a large amount of alcohol. In the latter case, the upsurge in pain tends to begin six to 12 hours later. In recent years, the incidence of alcohol-related pancreatitis has increased dramatically, and it now accounts for about one-third of the most acute cases. Statistics show pancreatitis caused by overindulgence in alcohol is most common in men in their 30s.
Pain Can Develop Quickly or Slowly
Depending on what has triggered the illness, pancreatitis pain may spread very quickly or may build up over a few days. As a rule, if the illness results from consuming alcohol in unsafe amounts, the pain spreads slowly, but if gallstones are the source, the sensation becomes severe quite quickly. Research indicates that gallstone-caused pancreatitis is most common in older adults.
Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting after meals in conjunction with stomach pain can indicate pancreatitis. Though many conditions can cause nausea, the occurrence of these symptoms at the same time as stomach pain that will not subside could indicate this pancreatic issue and should prompt an individual to see a doctor.
A temperature of 100.4 degrees F or higher that accompanies stomach pain can indicate a serious condition and requires urgent medical assistance. If the pain and fever pass without treatment, an individual may have experienced a mild case of pancreatitis, but it is advisable not to wait and take the chance that these health issues will resolve themselves.
In most cases, diarrhea is not harmful; it is usually the body’s way of ridding itself of an infection or a mildly poisonous interloper in the digestive system. However, if diarrhea comes with pain in the upper abdomen that does not go away, it could be yet another sign of pancreatitis.
Indigestion is another relatively minor complaint that an individual may be tempted to ignore or simply take some bismuth tablets to alleviate. However, as with many other symptoms of pancreatitis, if indigestion lingers and is accompanied by stomach pain, it could be an indication of pancreatitis.
Swelling of the Abdomen
Some people who develop pancreatitis experience swelling and tenderness in the abdomen. These signs, combined with continuous abdominal pain, should prompt an individual to seek medical attention, as they could indicate pancreatitis or another potentially dangerous condition.
Pulse and Blood Pressure Changes
Pulse and blood pressure are two common indicators doctors use to diagnose illness. When someone has pancreatitis, their pulse becomes much more rapid than usual and blood pressure may fluctuate but generally drops when the person stands. A rapid heart rate and drop in blood pressure usually indicate a more severe case of pancreatitis. These signs and symptoms need immediate medication attention.
Not Responsive to Painkillers
People might be tempted to address the symptoms of pancreatitis at home with strong over-the-counter painkillers. However, most individuals with this condition will find that even high doses of OTC medication will not provide relief. It is always best to limit consumption of analgesics, and a physician should investigate any continuing pain that drugs do not ease.