Every year in the United States, about 275,000 people are admitted to the hospital for acute pancreatitis.
Acute pancreatitis is a severe form of pancreatic disease, and an amylase serum test is an important tool for diagnosing pancreatic problems.
If you leave pancreatic disease left untreated, it can lead to serious long-term health complications.
If you're looking to learn more about amylase serum testing and common pancreatic diseases, then keep reading this guide to find out everything you need to know.
What is Pancreatic Disease
Pancreatitis is Either Chronic or Acute
Acute pancreatitis means that the inflammation will develop fast and then subside within days or weeks. The pancreas will return to a state of normality once it heals. The primary cause is long-term alcohol abuse and gallstones. When acute pancreatitis becomes more frequent, it can result in chronic pancreatitis.
Chronic pancreatitis involves inflammation that is long-lasting. It can also lead to scar tissue development inside this gland which stops it from working correctly. Long-term alcohol abuse is one of the leading causes of the condition known as chronic pancreatitis. There is also an increased risk of contracting this condition for those who smoke cigarettes.
This is a condition whereby the pancreas cannot transport or/and produce a sufficient amount of digestive enzymes to break down the food that enters the intestine. This is also a condition that goes by the name of EPI (or Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency)
EPI usually occurs from progressive or ongoing pancreatic damage caused by several types of conditions. It is commonly linked to cystic fibrosis that occurs in children and chronic pancreatitis in adults. It is not usually caused by pancreatic cancer.
One of the most common disorders of the pancreas that cause pancreatic disease is pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is when your pancreas becomes inflamed and painful.
Your pancreas is one busy organ, and it's responsible for producing digestive enzymes. These enzymes also help the hormones that regulate your blood sugar.
Pancreatitis can be either acute or chronic. Acute pancreatitis comes on very suddenly and improves within a week after treatment begins. But some cases of acute pancreatitis are so severe they require a hospital stay.
Severe and untreated cases of acute pancreatitis can lead to necrotizing pancreatitis, which refers to cell and tissue death in your pancreas. Immediate treatment is necessary.
Chronic pancreatitis is long-lasting and doesn't heal or improve like acute pancreatitis. Instead, chronic pancreatitis worsens over time and causes permanent pancreatic damage in many cases.
Other Types of Pancreatic Disease
A Pancreatic disease can also be inherited, called hereditary pancreatitis. This disease is characterized by frequent pancreatitis attacks early in life, most often when you're under 30. Your family history and genetic testing can identify what pancreatic conditions you may be at risk for.
Another type of pancreatic disease is Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). EPI develops when you become deficient in the pancreatic enzymes necessary for digestion. This deficiency becomes so severe that you become severely malnourished.
Causes of EPI include pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, cystic fibrosis, narrowing of the pancreatic duct, and diabetes.
Over 60,000 people in the US are diagnosed every year with pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer begins growing in the tissue of your pancreas, and the most common type is pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma.
Pancreatic cancer is rarely detected in its early stages, as it usually doesn't cause symptoms until after it's spread to your other organs. Although doctors have yet to identify a clear cause, DNA mutations play a crucial role in pancreatic cancer.
Other risk factors for pancreatic cancer include smoking, obesity, chronic inflammation of the pancreas, and being over 65.
Causes of Pancreatitis
When you have pancreatitis, your digestive enzymes are activated while still in your pancreas. This activation irritates the cells in your pancreas, causing pain and inflammation.
Gallstones are the leading cause of acute pancreatitis. Other pancreatitis causes include:
- Cystic fibrosis
- High levels of calcium
- High levels of triglycerides
- Abdominal injury
- Pancreatic cancer
- Infections from food poisoning such as Salmonella
- Hepatitis B
However, there are cases where the cause of pancreatitis can't be found.
Risk factors for Pancreatitis
Lifestyle and genetics are the most significant risk factors for developing pancreatitis. You can cut your chances of developing pancreatitis in half if you reduce alcohol consumption and quit smoking cigarettes.
Obesity is the next most significant risk factor. Losing weight and exercising daily can keep pancreatitis at bay.
Genetics play a role too. If you have family members with chronic pancreatitis, your chances are also greater. Men also have a greater chance than women of getting pancreatitis.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of pancreatitis depend on if you have acute or chronic pancreatitis. With acute pancreatitis, you'll find symptoms like:
- Fast heart rate
- Upper abdominal pain that goes around to your pack
- Pain that's worse after you eat
- Nausea and vomiting
- Tenderness to your abdomen
Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include weight loss, abdominal pain, and oily, smelly stools. See your doctor right away if you have ongoing abdominal pain that doesn't stop. Seek emergency treatment if your pain is so severe you can't get comfortable.
Repeated bouts of acute pancreatitis can lead to chronic pancreatitis, scar tissue formation, loss of pancreatic function, and serious medical complications.
Complications of Pancreatic Disease
Pancreatitis can become severe and cause serious and even fatal complications like:
- Severe pancreatic infections
- Kidney failure
- Heart failure
- Bleeding in your pancreas
- Obstruction of your pancreatic duct
- Severe damage to your pancreas
Pancreatitis also may create chemical changes in your body that affect how well your lungs function. Some people with pancreatitis have low oxygen levels.
When you have frequent episodes of pancreatitis and long-term inflammation, you increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer in the future.
Treatments of Pancreatic Diseases
Treatment for pancreatitis depends on how serious it is. Treatment includes pain medication, bowel rest (not eating for a day or two), and plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration for mild acute pancreatitis.
With severe acute pancreatitis, you typically need to be admitted to the hospital for IV fluids, antibiotics, nutrition, and even surgery. People with severe pancreatitis are at the most risk for organ failure and shock.
Diagnosis of Pancreatic Diseases
Your doctor will first perform a physical exam and ask detailed questions about your health history to diagnose pancreatic disease.
After your assessment, your doctor will want to order further diagnostic tests to confirm or rule out pancreatitis.
Imaging tests include a chest X-ray to check your heart and lungs and an ultrasound to examine your pancreas, gallbladder, and other organs.
Your doctor will often order an Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), a procedure that uses a long tube to visualize and diagnose liver, gallbladder, and pancreas problems.
Next, your doctor will order blood tests such as amylase and lipase to evaluate how your pancreas functions.
The enzyme amylase helps you to digest carbohydrates. Amylase is often elevated in pancreatic diseases, such as pancreatitis.
Acute pancreatitis is a severe form of pancreatic disease, and an amylase serum lab test is a fantastic tool for diagnosing pancreatic problems. Elevated amylase levels reaching three times the normal limit is an excellent indicator of acute pancreatitis.
An amylase serum test is also helpful in monitoring the cell damage in chronic pancreatitis.
Lipase is another pancreatic disease test that is often used to help confirm a diagnosis of pancreatitis. Lipase is an enzyme that helps digest fats. Your lipase levels will rise within 8 hours after pancreatitis symptoms start.
Your doctor will also likely order a complete blood count, triglyceride levels, and a comprehensive metabolic panel to assess your organs and overall health status.
Pancreatic Disease FAQS
Did you know the pancreas has four main parts? The head, neck, body, and tail make up your pancreas, and the pancreatic head attaches to your small intestine.
The venom from a bite of the Brazilian scorpion Tityus serrulatus can cause pancreatitis.
People knew all about the pancreas even in 300 BCE. The ancient Greeks identified the pancreas as a gland but didn't fully understand how it functioned.
Amylase Serum Test
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