Chronic Pancreatitis Requires Solid Pain Management Strategies

Chronic Pancreatitis Requires Solid Pain Management Strategies

Chronic Pancreatitis Requires Solid Pain Management Strategies

Pancreatitis is a painful condition that can be either acute or chronic. It is the result of inflammation of the pancreas, an abdominal gland that produces enzymes and hormones critical to how the body digests and processes food. Unfortunately, chronic pancreatitis only tends to get worse over time. It can be quite painful and, in some cases, life-threatening. The disease definitely requires solid pain management strategies.

The National Pancreas Foundation estimates that 5-12 out of every 100,000 people in industrialized nations will develop chronic pancreatitis at some point. Worldwide, the rate is ten times than that at 50 out of every 100,000. That is a lot of people suffering through a lot of pain and discomfort.

Causes and Symptoms

Research has yet to nail down a single cause of chronic pancreatitis. We do know that the condition is characterized by the activation of enzymes still trapped in the pancreas. Those enzymes irritate the tissue and lead to inflammation. It is believed that repeated episodes of acute pancreatitis can eventually lead to chronic pancreatitis.

Conditions commonly linked to pancreatitis include:

  • alcohol abuse
  • autoimmune disease
  • cystic fibrosis
  • abdominal trauma or injury
  • chronic obesity
  • gallstones.

Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis are what you would expect. They include chronic upper abdominal pain that may radiate into the back, localized tenderness, additional pain immediately after eating, unexplained weight loss, and oily stool with a pungent odor.

When to See a Doctor

Because pancreatitis can be potentially life-threatening, experts suggest seeing a doctor if you have any upper abdominal pain the lasts for more than a day or two. Most cases of acute pancreatitis will resolve within three or four days. Not so for chronic pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis left untreated can lead to a range of complications including infection, kidney failure, malnutrition, and diabetes. Therefore, it is important that pancreatitis be properly managed.

Treating Chronic Pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis treatments are divided into two categories: disease treatment and pain management. In terms of disease treatment, the goal is to relieve the pancreas of activated enzymes in order to reduce inflammation. Doctors also want to prevent future inflammation. This can be accomplished through prescription medications, dietary changes and so forth.

When chronic pancreatitis is caused by a bile duct obstruction, a doctor can perform an endoscopic procedure to locate the exact point of the obstruction. Either the bile duct can be enlarged, or the obstruction removed. Furthermore, endoscopic procedures are often utilized to drain fluid from the pancreas so as to reduce inflammation. Any diseased tissue can be removed as well.

Managing Pancreatitis Pain

The most common method for managing chronic pancreatitis pain is non-opioid pain medication. If a patient does not experience satisfactory relief, a doctor may recommend opioid painkillers. A further lack of relief may warrant considering one of several surgical procedures.

Pain medication has its place. However, opioid medications should not be used long term. From our perspective, surgery is something to avoid when at all possible. So rather than pain medication or surgery, we tend to recommend either a celiac plexus block or a spinal cord stimulator implant.

We are careful to note that these two treatments are not appropriate for every case of pancreatitis. But they are worth investigating if pain medicine has not worked for you and you are not fond of the idea of surgery.

Pain caused by chronic pancreatitis is just one of the many types of pain we treat. If you are looking for relief from any kind of chronic pain, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Lone Star Pain Medicine.

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