Gallstone pancreatitis is a condition that occurs when one of the pancreatic ducts becomes blocked by a gallstone. This blockage prevents the pancreas from excreting digestive enzymes as it should. Gallstone pancreatitis usually results in intense pain and discomfort. The condition requires medical treatment to prevent serious and potentially life-threatening complications.
What is Pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that occurs when enzymes become stimulated while still inside the pancreas. The enzymes ordinarily do not become active until they enter the small intestine, where they aid in digestion. The early stimulation of the enzymes causes them to irritate the pancreatic cells, causing severe inflammation. This problem can sometimes be triggered by the presence of a gallstone in one of the pancreatic ducts.
Acute pancreatitis is the sudden onset of pancreatic inflammation, which may be triggered by a gallstone. Acute pancreatitis may occur only once in a lifetime or multiple times. It sometimes causes changes in chemicals in the body that may affect proper lung function. This can lead to low blood-oxygen levels, which can be dangerous. In some cases, acute pancreatitis can lead to kidney failure.
Several episodes of acute pancreatitis may lead to the development of chronic pancreatitis. Over time, scar tissue may develop and impair pancreatic functioning. If the pancreas is unable to function properly, the body will experience digestive problems. As a result, some individuals may become diabetic. Proper treatment of acute gallstone pancreatitis is necessary to lower the risk of developing chronic pancreatitis.
Acute gallstone pancreatitis usually causes severe abdominal pain that may also affect the back. The pain may be more intense after eating. The discomfort may be somewhat relieved by curling the body into a ball or by leaning over. The abdomen may also be tender to the touch. The pain may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include abdominal pain, indigestion, steatorrhea (smelly stools containing oil) and weight loss. Other symptoms of acute or chronic pancreatitis are fever, chills, jaundice, sweating and weakness.
Generally, any type of pancreatitis requires hospitalization. Treatment usually involves fasting for a few days to allow the pancreas time to rest and recover. Intravenous fluids and pain medications will usually be administered. Gallstones may move out of the pancreas on their own, although surgical intervention may be needed. The gallbladder may be removed to prevent further problems.