The pancreas is a long organ behind the stomach; it produces enzymes to digest food. So if the pancreas is inflamed, and enzymes leak out, they can injure normal parts of our body, and that hurts! Pancreatitis usually occurs because of alcohol binges, gallstones, or having very high triglycerides in the blood, but it can also occur completely on its own.
We suspect pancreatitis when upper abdominal pain begins abruptly, and a person has the above risk factors. There’s almost always nausea or vomiting. Other clues are abdominal pain that’s also felt in the back, and pain relieved by bending forward. Diagnosis is made by a simple blood test for a pancreatic enzyme Lipase, which will be very elevated (not just a little). We can also see signs of pancreatitis on CT scan.
The only treatment is to rest the pancreas, by keeping everything out of the stomach. Patients may be admitted to the hospital for IV fluids, so they don’t have to eat or drink. If gallstones are responsible, gallbladder surgery is necessary. If alcohol is a factor, they need to stop (maybe easier said than done). If there’s no explanation for the pancreatitis, it may be an auto-immune condition, diagnosed by a blood test called IgG-4.