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What are the Different Types of Pancreatic Disease?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 August 2016
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A number of diseases can involve the pancreas. Pancreatic disease usually interferes with someone's ability to digest food, and can cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal tenderness, and symptoms of malnutrition. There are a number of treatments available for diseases of the pancreas, ranging from medications to compensate for failing organs to surgery to remove malignant neoplasms.

One very common form of pancreatic disease is diabetes, which interferes with insulin production in the pancreas. Although people think of diabetes as a whole body disease because it interferes with a number of other organ systems, the problems associated with diabetes can all be traced back to the problems with insulin production in the pancreas. Treatment can involve dietary control and supplementation with insulin to make up for the insufficient amount being produced in the pancreas.

Another form of pancreatic disease is pancreatitis, which can come in acute or chronic forms. Both forms are characterized by irritation of the pancreas, with acute occurring suddenly and being linked with conditions like alcoholism, while chronic forms consist of low level inflammation which persists for years. Cysts and pseudocysts can also form in the pancreas, and are considered another form of pancreatic disease.

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Congential malformations of the pancreas can lead to malfunctioning and other problems. Likewise, cystic fibrosis, an inherited condition, can attack the pancreas, with thick mucus plugging the pancreas so that they cannot function and drain properly. In pancreatic enzyme deficiency, people are not producing enough enzymes in the pancreas, either due to an underlying medical problem or due to a congenital condition. The lack of appropriate enzyme production interferes with the ability to digest food and causes malnutrition.

Another form of pancreatic disease is cancer. Pancreatic cancers originate in the pancreas, and the pancreas are also vulnerable to metastatic cancer which spreads from other organs or areas of the body. The cancer will interfere with pancreatic function and spread to surrounding organs unless it is identified and addressed. Treatments can include chemotherapy and radiation to shrink or stop the cancer, along with surgery to remove cancerous cells so that they cannot spread.

Because many different conditions can lead to impairments in pancreatic function, people should not jump to conclusions if they learn that something is going wrong in their pancreas. Pancreatic disease needs to be fully worked up to find out what is happening and why, and there are usually a number of treatment options available to the patient, especially in the early stages.

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