The primary function of the pancreas is the production of hormones which regulate the blood sugar as well as enzymes which, once released, assist in digestion. Sometimes, however, these enzymes become active prior to their release, and they attack the pancreatic tissue, causing it to become inflamed and irritated. A swollen pancreas, also known as pancreatitis, is most often caused by gallstones or alcohol abuse, but may also result from infection, pancreatic injury, diseases such as cancer and cystic fibrosis, and duct blockages. Treatment for a swollen pancreas usually includes relieving immediate symptoms and then addressing the condition’s underlying cause.
A swollen pancreas is caused by the malfunction of the digestive enzymes produced within the organ. Normally, these enzymes do not become active until they have been released from the pancreas. In pancreatitis, however, the enzymes become active before leaving the pancreas, and begin attacking the organ, causing it to become swollen. Usually, the dominant symptom of a swollen pancreas is abdominal pain. As pancreatitis involves an interruption of the digestive enzymes’ normal function, sufferers may also experience digestive problems such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, discolored waste, and unplanned weight loss.
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Normally, an underlying condition causes these pancreatic enzymes to malfunction. The two most common underlying causes of a swollen pancreas are gallstones and alcohol abuse. Generally, pancreatitis caused by gallstones arises suddenly, and is thus classified as acute pancreatitis. Conversely, pancreatic swelling caused by alcohol abuse tends to escalate over a long period of time, and is thus known as chronic pancreatitis.
Other underlying conditions can also cause a swollen pancreas. Normal function of the pancreatic enzymes may be affected by infections or by an injury to the pancreas caused by an accident or a surgical error. Diseases such as cancer and cystic fibrosis can also cause pancreatitis, as can structural deformities of the ducts which normally transport digestive enzymes away from the pancreas.
Treatment for a swollen pancreas usually includes relieving immediate symptoms and then addressing the condition’s underlying cause. Relieving the immediate symptoms of pancreatitis often involves a hospital stay during which the patient is fed intravenously, thus relieving digestive discomfort while allowing the pancreas to recover. Then, the underlying cause of pancreatitis is addressed to prevent further incidences of swelling. For instance, if the condition is caused by alcoholism, the sufferer may enter substance abuse treatment. If it is caused by gallstones, the sufferer may have his gallbladder removed.