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Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, which is a small organ crucial to the digestive just behind the stomach and below the ribcage. The pancreas, which is about six inches long, can become inflamed over a short period of time (acute pancreatic) or the problem can persist for many years (chronic pancreatitis).

It is a vital organ for the body because it produces digestive juices that help break down the foods you eat and produces a hormone that regulates sugar levels in the blood. Around 50 in 100,000 people are diagnosed with acute pancreatitis every year and six to nine in 100,000 are diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis in the UK each year.

In England, more than 25,000 people were admitted to hospital with acute pancreatitis between 2013 and 2014.

What is pancreatitis?

The two forms of pancreatitis are distinct but the most common cause of the illness are drinking too much alcohol and gallstones, which are responsible for 50% of all acute pancreatitis cases.

Acute Pancreatitis: This is usually a one-off illness, usually lasting a few days before the pancreas returns to normal.

Chronic Pancreatitis: This is repeat inflammations which can lead to scarring and reduced function. It is a long term condition in which the pancreas does not recover.

It is believed that acute pancreatitis is caused by misfiring enzymes which try to digest the organ

The average age for the development of alcohol-related acute pancreatitis is 38 while the average age for gallstone-related acute pancreatitis is 69.  Admission to hospital is always required, though, because the functions of the body need to be supported until the pancreas recovers.

Symptoms of pancreatitis

These can range from mild to severe and can worsen over a few days. The main symptom of acute pancreatitis is a severe, dull abdominal pain around the top of the stomach and radiating to the back. It can get worse with movement. Patients have also experienced a loss of appetite, high temperatures, feeling sick and vomiting, tenderness or swelling of the tummy and a fast heartbeat.

Chronic pancreatitis can often start with a series of acute attacks. Chronic sufferers experience a dull abdominal pain which can get worse after eating but often there is no obvious trigger. They can also lose weight and experience the symptoms of diabetes, including feeling thirsty and needing to urinate more frequently

Diagnosis of pancreatitis

Hospital admission may be required in severe cases but GPs can ask for blood tests, stools test – particularly for chronic pancreatitis –  and an abdominal ultrasound that detect if the pancreas is inflamed.

An ERCP (Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) produces a high definition X-Ray of the pancreas and bile ducts to detect and remove gallstones. An endoscope is passed through the mouth and stomach to the opening of the pancreas in the bowel. A tiny plastic tube is passed into the pancreas opening and some x-ray liquid is injected to outline the pancreatic tubes, and pictures are taken. During the procedure, narrowing of the bile or pancreatic tubes can be widened and stones in the bile tubes can be removed.

Damage caused by gallstones can also be picked up by a type of MRI scan called a magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatogram (MRCP).

Treatment of pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis usually improve on its own so treatment is supportive but if you have severe acute pancreatitis, you’re likely to need treatment in hospital. Most patients are well enough to leave hospital after five to ten days but if complications develop you’ll need to be treated in intensive care or on a high dependency unit.

Treatment for acute pancreatitis can involve intravenous fluids given by a drip, through a vein in your arm, painkillers such as opiates and medicines to treat sickness.

Doctors will want to ‘rest’ your pancreas so you won’t be able to eat or drink for a few days, so you may be given liquid food through a tube instead. To do this, a long, thin tube is put up your nostril and passed down your throat into your stomach or small bowel. A special liquid food can then be put straight into your stomach or bowel until your pancreas heals and you can eat and drink again.

Your pancreas produces a hormone which controls the level of glucose (sugar) in your blood. When your pancreas is inflamed it stops working properly and doesn’t produce enough of this hormone. You’re likely to need injections or an infusion given into your vein instead. In some cases, pancreatic enzyme preparations may be prescribed.

For chronic pancreatitis, treatments vary depending on the individual symptoms but lifestyle changes such as cutting alcohol intake and stopping smoking are strongly advised.

Diet changes and food supplements can also be prescribed and, in severe cases, surgery to remove or drain any cysts or remove part of the pancreas can be an option.

Contact us

To ask a question about pancreatitis or to book an appointment, contact our specialist team available Monday – Friday 8am – 6pm and on Saturday from 9am – 1pm.

Our gastrointestinal specialists team have a dedicated and caring approach and will seek to find you the earliest appointment possible with the correct specialist for your needs. If you are self-paying you don’t need a referral from your GP. You can simply refer yourself and book an appointment. If you have medical insurance (e.g. Bupa, Axa PPP, Aviva), you will need to contact your insurer for authorisation for any treatment and, in most cases, you will require a referral letter from your GP. If you do not have a GP, then we have an in-house private GP practice that you can use.Alternatively we can suggest the most appropriate course of action for you to take, given your location and individual circumstance.

Call us on 020 7078 3802 or email us at gi.unit@hje.org.uk

GI Clinic

The GI Unit is supported by a multidisciplinary team of medical and surgical consultants. Our expert team treats and supports patients with any gastrointestinal conditions.

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Patient information

Our Hospital is renowned for providing exemplary levels of care across more than 90 services. From orthopaedics, to urology, ENT, as well as a private GP practice and our urgent care centre, Casualty First, our services are led by some of London’s leading Consultants. For more information, and to find a service suitable for your care, find out more about the services that we offer.

Make an enquiry

If you have any questions relating to treatment options or pricing information then get in touch with us by filling out one of our contact boxes or giving us a call on 020 7078 3802.

Our Appointments Team have a dedicated and caring approach to finding you the earliest appointment possible with the best specialist.

 If you are self-paying you don’t need a referral from your GP for a consultation. You can simply refer yourself* and book an appointment.

If you have medical insurance (e.g. Bupa, Axa PPP, Aviva), you will need to contact your insurer to get authorisation for any treatment and, in most cases, you will require a referral letter from your GP.

If you do not have a GP, then we have an in-house private GP practice that you can use. Alternatively we can suggest the most appropriate course of action for you to take, given your location and individual circumstance.

*Please note – for investigations such as X-rays and MRI’s a referral will be required. However, we may be able to arrange this for you through our on-site private GP.

    Make an enquiry

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