What Is Pancreatitis, and What Causes It?

Travis Barker was hospitalized yesterday, and today, reports are confirming that the Blink-182 drummer (and Kourtney Kardashian's husband) was experiencing pancreatitis. The cause is still unclear, but this much is certain: pancreatitis can be a serious and painful experience. The condition occurs when the pancreas (an organ that produces enzymes to help the body digest its food) becomes inflamed, causing stomach pain, nausea, and more. In fact, Barker apparently knew he had to go to the hospital when he felt "intense pain in his abdomen and it really concerned him and Kourtney," a source told ET. A quick rundown on what pancreatitis is and what causes it, here.

What Is Pancreatitis?

Your stomach takes in food and your pancreas - a small organ located behind your stomach, next to your small intestine - helps digest it. It releases digestive enzymes to help process food, and releases glucagon and insulin that helps your body break down food into energy. "Pancreatitis occurs when digestive enzymes become activated while still in the pancreas, irritating the cells of your pancreas and causing inflammation," according to the Mayo Clinic.

What Typically Causes Pancreatitis?

Gallstones account for up to 70 percent of cases of acute pancreatitis, according to an UpToDate article written by Santhi Swaroop Vege, MD. Up to 25 percent of acute cases are linked to chronic alcohol overuse. Medications, high triglyceride levels, cystic fibrosis, high calcium levels, infection, and injury are all other possible causes for the issue, reports the Mayo Clinic. While it's possible for procedures like colonoscopies to cause acute pancreatitis, it's thought to be very uncommon, according to a case report in The Cureus Journal of Medical Science. It's possible that during a colonoscopy, the pancreas could undergo some trauma, which would then result in inflammation.

Pancreatitis can also be chronic; this occurs when the acute inflammation has been treated, but the pancreas has sustained damage, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

What are the Symptoms of Pancreatitis?

According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of acute pancreatitis may include:

  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Abdominal pain that radiates to your back
  • Tenderness when touching the abdomen
  • Fever
  • Rapid pulse
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Chronic pancreatitis sign and symptoms also include upper abdominal pain, in addition to abdominal pain that worsens after eating, unintended weight loss, and oily or smelly stools (a.k.a. steatorrhea).

How Is Pancreatitis Treated?

Pancreatitis is serious, and if you think you have it, you should visit your doctor ASAP. Acute attacks might require treatment with medications for the pain, IV fluids to prevent dehydration, a diet of clear liquids and bland food while your pancreas recovers, and sometimes even a feeding tube, reports the Mayo Clinic. Your doctors will also try to determine what caused the episode, and treat that to prevent it from happening again - so if gallstones were behind the acute pancreatitis, you may need gallbladder removal surgery. In the case of chronic pancreatitis, patients may need additional pain management therapy, digestive enzyme supplements, and dietary changes.

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