If you’ve ever suffered from pancreatitis, you’re already aware of the debilitating pain it can cause.
Rates of acute pancreatitis (short-term) are increasing along with obesity and the prevalence of gallstones.
One of the main concerns people suffering from pancreatitis have is how to relieve pancreatitis pain.
What Is Pancreatitis?
Your pancreas is a vital organ. It’s a long, flat gland resting behind your stomach in your upper abdominal area. It helps secrete enzymes that aid in digestion and also produces insulin, a hormone that helps lower your blood sugar levels.
Your pancreas connects to the start of your small intestine and contains a pancreatic duct that empties digestive enzymes into your small intestine.
The pancreatic enzymes include amylase (breaks down carbohydrates), lipase (breaks down fats), as well as trypsin and chymotrypsin (breaks down proteins).
Pancreatitis is a condition where your pancreas becomes inflamed. Acute pancreatitis usually resolves within a matter of weeks. Chronic pancreatitis can linger for years and increase severity as the pancreas becomes damaged.
Around 80% of patients with acute pancreatitis have mild symptoms which resolve fairly quickly. The other 20% have more complicated bouts of severe acute pancreatitis, which can lead to further health problems.
- Upper abdominal pain
- Abdominal pain that radiates to your back
- Tenderness when touching your abdomen
- Rapid pulse
Chronic pancreatitis signs and symptoms:
- Upper abdominal pain
- Abdominal pain that feels worse after eating
- Losing weight without trying
- Oily, smelly stools (steatorrhea) due to lack of pancreatic enzymes that help break down fats
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What Causes Pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis occurs when the digestive enzymes it produces activate before they leave your pancreas. This leads to the pancreas being irritated and causing pain and inflammation.
The most common risk factors for developing pancreatitis are excessive alcohol use, cigarette smoking, obesity, having gallstones, having diabetes, and having a family history of pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis can also be triggered by certain health conditions like:
- Certain medications
- High triglyceride levels in the blood (hypertriglyceridemia)
- Pancreatic cancer
- Abdominal surgery
- Cystic fibrosis
- Injury to your abdomen
Chronic alcohol abuse causes your body to make thicker, more viscous secretions which can block the pancreatic ducts and lead to pancreatitis.
One of the more common causes of acute pancreatitis is having gallstones. Gallstones can get caught in a pancreatic duct, blocking the exit of pancreatic enzymes. This type of acute pancreatitis is gallstone pancreatitis.
Where Do You Feel Pancreatitis Pain And What Does It Feel Like?
You’re likely to feel pancreatitis pain near your pancreas which is in your upper abdomen. The pain may also spread to your back.
Pancreatitis pain will likely differ from person to person, but it’s usually severe and disabling. Someone with pancreatitis will quickly look and feel very ill and need immediate medical attention.
If you feel pain in your upper abdomen and it’s accompanied by other symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, it’s likely that you’re suffering from pancreatitis and should seek medical help for treatment.
9 Natural Remedies To Relieve Pancreatitis Pain
You might be wondering how to relieve pancreatitis pain at home. If your symptoms aren’t severe enough to land you in the hospital, here are some natural methods of pancreatitis pain relief.
Eat a low-fat diet
High-fat foods stimulate your pancreas to create lipase to digest the fats. A high-fat diet can worsen both acute pancreatitis and chronic pancreatitis symptoms.
Avoid eating high-fat animal foods like whole milk products, butter, and fatty meat. Instead, focus on getting plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and low-fat or nonfat dairy or dairy alternatives like almond milk.
A hot water bottle can potentially alleviate the discomfort associated with pancreatitis pain. Placing a hot water bottle on the affected area may help to relax the muscles and reduce the intensity of the pain.
Take it easy
Getting adequate rest and avoiding physical activity can potentially help alleviate pancreatitis pain.
Stick to a clear liquid diet if your symptoms are severe
In cases of intense pancreatitis pain, it is recommended to follow a clear liquid diet until your symptoms alleviate.
This includes consuming beverages such as juice, jello, broth, and popsicles, which can provide relief to your pancreas.
Use digestive enzymes
Digestive enzymes are available for over-the-counter purchase. Taking digestive enzymes might alleviate some of the digestive discomfort and pain from pancreatitis.
Choose a digestive enzyme blend containing amylase, protease, and lipase to cover all of the macronutrients.
Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medicine practice that involves the insertion of thin needles into the skin, has been found to alleviate pain and distension in some individuals with pancreatitis.
Practices such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga could help reduce stress and alleviate pancreatitis pain.
Probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that promote gut health, may reduce inflammation and ease pancreatitis pain.
Drinking plenty of water can help keep the body hydrated and potentially reduce pancreatitis pain.
Medical Treatments For Pancreatitis
If you’re admitted to the hospital for pancreatitis pain, you’ll likely be given a strong pain medication to help manage and relieve your pain.
If your pancreatitis is caused by an infection in your pancreas, you’ll be given antibiotics to help treat the infection.
Severe cases of acute pancreatitis and chronic pancreatitis might require IV fluids to help treat dehydration.
If you can’t eat, you may receive a feeding tube to meet your nutritional needs. In severe cases where your digestive system needs complete rest, IV nutrition in the form of parenteral nutrition will be prescribed.
A meta-analysis concluded that tube feeding (enteral nutrition) is more advantageous than IV nutrition (parenteral nutrition) in people hospitalized for severe acute pancreatitis.
Gallstone pancreatitis is one of the causes of repeat pancreatitis. A cholecystectomy is surgery to remove your gallbladder. Your healthcare provider might recommend this surgery if gallstones are causing recurrent pancreatitis.
Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
This procedure is used to scope out issues with your pancreas. A gastroenterologist (doctor specializing in the digestive system) can use ERCP to remove gallstones that might be blocking your pancreatic duct.
Your doctor might recommend surgery to remove blockages near your pancreas. If part of your pancreas becomes severely damaged from chronic pancreatitis, then your doctor may recommend removing parts of it.
If parts of your pancreas become permanently damaged from chronic pancreatitis, you might develop diabetes. This type of diabetes is called type 3c diabetes and occurs when the part of your pancreas that produces insulin is damaged.
Treatment for malabsorption
Chronic pancreatitis can cause malabsorption of important nutrients from pancreatic damage. Your doctor may advise you to take (or receive an infusion of) vitamins A, D, E, and K (fat-soluble vitamins) as well as vitamin B12 shots.
Nerve block procedure
If your pancreatitis is causing severe pain, your doctor might offer you a nerve block procedure. Numbing medication is injected directly into the abdominal nerves that carry the pain signals from your pancreas to your brain.
Doctors usually reserve this procedure (a celiac plexus block) for those suffering from chronic pancreatitis.
Your pancreas makes digestive enzymes that help break down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates that you eat.
Pancreatitis is a painful condition where your pancreas becomes inflamed because these digestive enzymes become activated before they leave your pancreas.
Most people who suffer from pancreatitis have acute pancreatitis, meaning it goes away. You can manage acute pancreatitis pain at home with diet changes.
Chronic pancreatitis is rarer and may require more advanced medical procedures to manage it. These include surgery, nerve blocks, and IV or tube feeding nutrition.