Symptoms of Pancreas Problems

Symptoms of pancreas problems
Though abdominal pain, nausea, and bloating are some of the common symptoms of a malfunctioning pancreas, symptoms could vary, depending on the specific pancreatic disease a person is suffering from. The following write-up provides information on the common pancreatic diseases, and the symptoms of pancreas problems.
Pancreas is a glandular organ that is located behind the stomach, and stretches across the back of the abdomen. It consists of two types of tissue called exocrine and endocrine tissue. While the exocrine tissue performs the vital function of secreting enzymes that facilitate the digestion of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, the endocrine tissue produces insulin and glucagon, which are hormones that regulate glucose levels in the blood. Though pancreas could malfunction due to congenital abnormalities such as pancreas divisum and annular pancreas, certain pancreatic conditions could be acquired as a result of unhealthy dietary habits and poor lifestyle choices.

Diseases that Affect the Pancreas

Various medical conditions that could affect the pancreas include:

Acute pancreatitis
Chronic pancreatitis
Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency
Pancreatic cancer
Pancreatic cysts
Diabetes mellitus

Symptoms Associated with Pancreatic Diseases

Since various digestive enzymes are secreted by the pancreas, pancreatic diseases could have an adverse effect on the process of digestion. Various symptoms could appear if the pancreas is unable to function properly. Here are some of the common symptoms of pancreas problems.

Abdominal pain is one of the most common symptoms of pancreatic diseases.
Pain is mainly felt in the center of the abdomen where the pancreas is located. It could get referred to the upper and lower quadrant of the abdomen.
Pain is likely to occur after meals.
The intensity of the pain may increase when the individual lies down on his/her back.

More often than not, affected individuals ignore these symptoms, mistaking it to be indigestion. This must be avoided. Medical help must be sought if a person experiences recurring episodes of abdominal pain.

Acute Pancreatitis

The term 'pancreatitis' refers to the inflammation of the pancreas. Acute pancreatitis is signified by the sudden and rapid onset of symptoms that occur when the digestive enzymes don't leave the pancreas, and act on the surrounding tissues. Infections, trauma, high levels of triglycerides in the blood, gallstones, prolonged use of certain drugs, and alcohol abuse are the common contributory factors behind the inflammation. The common symptoms of this condition include:

Abdominal pain that may radiate to the back
Swollen and tender abdomen

Chronic Pancreatitis

People who indulge in excessive consumption of alcohol are definitely at a high risk of developing chronic pancreatitis. Gallstones, cystic fibrosis, and elevated levels of triglycerides are also risk factors. Unlike acute pancreatitis, wherein the symptoms appear suddenly, chronic pancreatitis develops over a period of time. Though most of the symptoms of chronic pancreatitis are similar to that of acute pancreatitis, other symptoms may appear when persistent inflammation causes the condition of pancreas to worsen over time. The symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include:

Pain in the abdomen
Back pain
Loss of appetite
Weight loss

Malabsorption occurs when the pancreas doesn't release the pancreatic juices and enzymes. The health of the affected individual worsens when food is not broken down and the nutrients are not absorbed. In case of severe damage, the affected individual may develop diabetes mellitus.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

The digestive enzymes that are secreted by the pancreas play a vital role in digestion. These include lipase, amylase, protease, elastase, trypsin, bicarbonate, etc. A progressive loss of pancreatic cells that secrete these enzymes gives rise to exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. Though this condition is common in dogs, it could affect humans. People who suffer from cystic fibrosis, chronic pancreatitis, Celiac disease, Crohn's disease, diabetes, or a rare congenital disorder called Shwachman-Diamond syndrome are more likely to develop this condition. The symptoms of this pancreas problem include:

Abdominal pain
Weight loss
Oily and smelly stools

Pancreatic Cancer

Cancer refers to the formation of a malignant growth due to an abnormal and uncontrolled cell division. The exact cause behind the development of a malignant growth in the pancreas is not yet known, but diabetics and people who suffer from chronic pancreatitis are believed to be susceptible. The symptoms would vary, depending on the stage and the extent to which the cancer has spread. The symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:

Upper abdominal pain
Back pain
Loss of appetite
Weight loss
Nausea and vomiting
Dark urine
Clay-colored stools

Pancreatic Cysts

Pancreatic cysts are pockets of fluid that develop within the pancreas. Based on the contents of the cysts, these are classified into true cysts and pseudocysts. While a true cyst is lined by epithelium that secretes fluid into it, pseudocysts are filled with pancreatic enzymes, dead pancreatic tissue, blood, etc. Pseudocysts are commonly observed in people who suffer from pancreatitis. These cysts may be lined with granulation tissue. These may contain inflamed pancreatic cells. While the inflammatory pseudocysts are usually benign, the non-inflammatory ones may or may not be benign. Some of them may be precancerous or cancerous. Pseudocysts may not always give rise to symptoms. However, symptoms could arise if they get infected or rupture. Complications could arise if they obstruct the stomach or the duodenum. The symptoms of pancreatic cysts include:

Abdominal pain
Jaundice (in case of obstruction of the common duct)

Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes is a medical condition that is characterized by high blood sugar levels. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas is not able to produce insulin. On the other hand, type 2 diabetes occurs if the pancreas is unable to produce sufficient amounts of insulin or the body fails to use insulin properly. Some of the common symptoms of diabetes include:

Low energy levels
Dehydration leading to excessive thirst
Frequent urination

These were some of the symptoms caused by medical conditions associated with the pancreas. If you are experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms of pancreas problems, do consult a doctor. While drug therapy and other treatment options will help to alleviate the symptoms, the affected individuals must also make the necessary dietary modifications and lifestyle changes.