You’ve probably heard of the pancreas, but you may not necessarily be aware of its purpose and diseases that can develop in it. But issues with this organ should be addressed as quickly as possible to avoid permanent damage.
In this blog, board-certified NYC gastroenterologist Dr. Anthony S. Borcich explains what you need to know about pancreatic diseases, including symptoms you should look out for.
What is the pancreas?
The pancreas is a large organ that’s located behind the stomach and next to the small intestine. It’s made up of two different types of glands, which help it carry out the following main functions:
- Releasing digestive enzymes into the small intestine to help your body break down foods
- Releasing insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream to help regulate blood sugar levels and control how your body converts food into energy
What are some types of pancreatic diseases?
The following are two of the most common pancreatic diseases:
- Pancreatitis – inflammation of the pancreas, which can be acute or chronic. Chronic pancreatitis is a progressive disorder that’s most common in men and usually develops between the ages of 30 and 40.
- Pancreatic cancer – accounts for more than 37,000 new cases of cancer each year in the U.S.
What causes pancreatic disease?
In some cases, the cause of pancreatic disease can’t be determined. Other cases can be caused by the following:
- Hereditary disorders
- Heavy alcohol use
- Autoimmune disease
- High triglycerides (fat in the blood)
- Cystic fibrosis
What are some common symptoms of pancreatic diseases?
The following are some of the symptoms associated with pancreatitis:
- Upper abdominal pain
- Malnutrition and weight loss (in patients with chronic pancreatitis)
Pancreatic cancer often causes no symptoms but can be characterized by a yellowing of the skin (jaundice).
How is pancreatic disease diagnosed?
The following may be used to help your doctor diagnose pancreatic disease:
- Physical examination
- Blood tests
- Pancreatic function test (to measure digestive enzymes)
- Glucose tolerance test (to measure damage to cells in the pancreas that make insulin)
- Scannings such as a CAT scan, MRI, ERCP, MRCP, or endoscopic ultrasound
- Biopsy (insertion of a small needle into the pancreas to obtain a small tissue sample for further testing)
How is it treated?
Symptoms of pancreatic disease should be addressed as quickly as possible because severe and acute pancreatitis can be life-threatening in some cases. Chronic pancreatitis can cause permanent scarring and damage to the pancreas.
Pancreatic diseases can be treated in the some of the following ways:
- IV fluids
- Pain medications
- Nutritional support
- Treatment of underlying issues (such as gallstones)
If you’re experiencing any symptoms of pancreatic diseases, make an appointment with Dr. Borcich today. He’ll help confirm or rule out a diagnosis of pancreatic disease and will recommend the most effective, least invasive treatment that will help you get relief from your symptoms and avoid permanent damage to your pancreas.