Skip to main content
CNN.com CNN.com -- Health
ASK AN EXPERT
Got a question about a health story in the news or a health topic? Here's your chance to get an answer. Send us your questions about general health topics, diet and fitness and mental health. If your question is chosen, it could be featured on CNN.com's health page with an answer from one of our health experts, or by a participant in the CNNhealth community.




* CNN encourages you to contribute a question. By submitting a question, you agree to the following terms found below.
You may not post any unlawful, threatening, libelous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic or other material that would violate the law. By submitting your question, you hereby give CNN the right, but not the obligation, to post, air, edit, exhibit, telecast, cablecast, webcast, re-use, publish, reproduce, use, license, print, distribute or otherwise use your questions(s) and accompanying personal identifying and other information you provide via all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, worldwide, in perpetuity. CNN Privacy Statment.
Thank you for your question!

It will be reviewed and considered for posting on CNNHealth.com. Questions and comments are moderated by CNN and will not appear until after they have been reviewed and approved. Unfortunately, because of the voume of questions we receive, not all can be posted.

Submit another question or Go back to CNNHealth.com

Read answers from our experts: Living Well | Diet & Fitness | Mental Health | Conditions

Expert Q&A

  • Share this on:
    Share
  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print

What could be causing my pancreatitis?

Asked by VaLenda McKee, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Open quote
Close quote

I recently landed in the hospital for five days because of pancreatitis. I am the atypical patient for this condition. I have type 1 diabetes. I do not drink, and my gallbladder was removed in 2003. CT scans showed a seriously inflamed pancreas, but doctors could not find a reason why. Any ideas? I have never hurt so bad in all my life, and they say since they can't find a reason for it, it can happen again with no warning just like this last one. Please help.

Expert Bio Picture

Conditions Expert Dr. Otis Brawley Chief Medical Officer,
American Cancer Society

Expert answer

The pancreas is an organ in the mid-abdomen that secretes digestive fluids through the pancreatic duct into the small bowel. These fluids contain enzymes that break down food as part of the digestive process. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the organ as these fluids start damaging the organ itself.

I cannot overemphasize how incredibly painful this condition can be. Acute pancreatitis begins as a sudden onset of sharp pain in the mid- and upper abdomen. Some relief can often be obtained by bending forward. Most people have nausea and vomiting with it. It requires hospitalization with nothing to eat or drink, hydration and narcotics to control pain. An episode of pancreatitis often goes away after a few days, but some patients have recurrence.

The most common cause of pancreatitis is gallstone obstruction of the duct leading from the pancreas to the small bowel, causing the fluids to back up into the pancreas. The second most common cause is alcohol damage to the pancreas, often after binge drinking. A third of pancreatitis episodes are due to other causes, which in most cases will never be identified.

Certain drugs such as steroids, some anti-hypertensives such as angiotensin converting enzymes, and even antibiotics and anti-virals can cause pancreatitis. Trauma to the abdomen can also cause pancreatitis. Some folks with cystic fibrosis, high serum triglycerides and other familial syndromes are at increased risk of acute pancreatitis.

The most serious cause that I have seen is dysplasia of the pancreatic duct. In very rare cases, this ductal dysplasia can progress to pancreatic cancer. A second episode of pancreatitis should lead to a consultation with a gastroenterologist and consideration of procedures to assess the duct. These are quite invasive, and I would not recommend them after only one unexplained episode.

Your type I or juvenile-onset diabetes is due to the islet cells located in your pancreas no longer producing insulin. Usually, this is the result of an immune reaction that destroys the islet cells. Some people do have an immune reaction causing chronic (long-term) pancreatitis, which is very different from painful acute pancreatitis. Chronic pancreatitis can also be caused by alcohol and various familial diseases. Chronic pancreatitis can sometimes lead to type 1 diabetes. It is more likely that you have two separate and unrelated diseases involving the same organ.

I hope you can find some reassurance in the fact that studies show that less than 5 percent of patients with one episode of acute pancreatitis ever has a second. That means 19 out of 20 people who have acute pancreatitis for unknown reasons will never have it again.

More Q&A

  • CNN's Medical UnitCNN's medical unit brings you the best experts available to answer your questions about current events and health issues that matter most to you.
Is secondhand smoke really that risky?asked by: Asked by David; Tampa, Florida
Can a nerve stimulator stop my back pain?asked by: Asked by Larry; New York
Is the inability of cancer patients to eat a concern?asked by: Steve Snodgrass; Bowling Green, Kentucky
Quick Job Search
keyword(s):
enter city:

CNN Comment Policy: CNN encourages you to add a comment to this discussion. You may not post any unlawful, threatening, defamatory, obscene, pornographic or other material that would violate the law. All comments should be relevant to the topic and remain respectful of other authors and commenters. You are solely responsible for your own comments, the consequences of posting those comments, and the consequences of any reliance by you on the comments of others. By submitting your comment, you hereby give CNN the right, but not the obligation, to post, air, edit, exhibit, telecast, cablecast, webcast, re-use, publish, reproduce, use, license, print, distribute or otherwise use your comment(s) and accompanying personal identifying and other information you provide via all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, worldwide, in perpetuity. CNN Privacy Statement.

The information contained on this page does not and is not intended to convey medical advice. CNN is not responsible for any actions or inaction on your part based on the information that is presented here. Please consult a physician or medical professional for personal medical advice or treatment.

Home  |  World  |  U.S.  |  Politics  |  Crime  |  Entertainment  |  Health  |  Tech  |  Travel  |  Living  |  Money  |  Sports  |  Time.com
© 2014 Cable News Network. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved.