What is Pancreatitis?
Inflammation of the pancreas is referred to as Pancreatitis(1). Pancreas is located in the upper part of the abdomen and is responsible for producing enzymes which aid in digestion. Pancreas also produces hormones, which controls how the body processes glucose from the food. Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic. The symptoms of the acute form of pancreatitis come on suddenly and may last for a week or two while the chronic form of pancreatitis develops over a period of time before symptoms are observed.
Mild form of pancreatitis tends to resolve on its own without any need for treatment; however, severe cases of pancreatitis may lead to serious complications and need to be treated promptly(2). When digestive enzymes get activated while they are in the pancreas tends to irritate the cells of the gland resulting in inflammation.
Persistent bouts of pancreatitis may cause significant damage to the pancreas to the extent that there may be formation of scar tissues or complete loss of function of the gland(1). An individual without an adequately functioning pancreas tend to have poor digestion and may even end up having diabetes.
There are also certain medical conditions that can lead to pancreatitis including gallstones, any surgery to the abdomen, certain classes of medications, nicotine and alcohol abuse. It is imperative for individuals at risk for pancreatitis to get checked up to rule out this condition to prevent any complications from developing. This article talks about the ways that Pancreatitis is diagnosed.
Which Tests Are Done To Diagnose Pancreatitis?
History & Physical Examination. To diagnose Pancreatitis, the physician will first take a detailed history of the patient to see if the patient has any of the risk factors associated with pancreatitis like alcohol issues or cigarette smoking. The physician will also enquire about the patient’s family history to see if any direct relatives of the patient have had this disease. A detailed history of the medications or any underlying conditions that the patient may be having is also discussed as a part of the diagnosis of pancreatitis.
The next step towards a pancreatitis diagnosis would be a comprehensive physical examination where the physician would inspect the area of the upper abdomen to look for any tenderness, swelling or pain.
Following this, a comprehensive laboratory and radiographic testing is done to diagnose pancreatitis. It should be mentioned that it is quite a challenge to diagnose pancreatitis in its initial phases. The physician may carry out tests for other conditions that may be causing the symptoms before zeroing on pancreatitis.
Blood Tests. The laboratory investigations that are done to diagnose pancreatitis include a blood test that is done to look for elevation in the levels of the digestive enzymes like amylase and lipase which in cases of pancreatitis will be high(3). A sugar test will be done to see for presence of any hyperglycemia(3). A lipid profile will be done, which will be high, in cases of pancreatitis. A blood test will also be helpful in ruling out any inflammation of the gallbladder or the bile ducts.A stool test will also be done to look for presence of fat as is the case with pancreatitis.
CT Scan. Radiographic test to diagnose pancreatitis include an ultrasound to look for presence of any inflammation around the pancreatic region(3). A CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis can also be done to get accurate pictures of the pancreas and also the bile ducts and gallbladder to look for presence of inflammation.
Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography. However, the most preferred radiographic study to diagnose Pancreatitis is termed as Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography or MRCP(3). This study utilizes the MRI machine to get exact pictures of the pancreas with much better visibility and accuracy than the CT scan which points to the exact area of inflammation if present. It can also show the cause of the inflammation in pancreatitis.
Endoscopic Ultrasound. Endoscopic ultrasound is yet another preferred way of diagnosing pancreatitis(3). In this study an endoscope which is a small tube with a minature camera attached to it is inserted from the mouth through to the abdomen via the stomach. The area around the pancreas is explored and if any inflammation is present it can be visualized confirming the diagnosis of pancreatitis.
Pancreatic Function Test. In Pancreatitis, the pancreas tends to function slower than normal. This can be observed through the pancreatic function test in which the response of the pancreas to the hormone secretin is observed(4). If the test is abnormal then it would confirm the diagnosis of Pancreatitis(4).
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