The pancreas is a small organ located next to the liver and behind the stomach. As part of the digestive tract, the pancreas is responsible for releasing numerous enzymes and other acids that work to break down the foods that make their way through the stomach and into the small intestine. One of its other main functions is to release insulin. Insulin is a hormone that regulates the amount of sugar or glucose in the blood. Regulating the blood sugar level works to provide fuel for the tissues throughout the body. Glucose is what the body burns during physical activity.
Gallstones are small mineral deposits that are made from cholesterol, fats, and salts. The gallbladder lies next to the pancreas and both work together to release enzymes and digestive fluids that help break down foods during digestion. Bile is one of these digestive fluids that is stored in the gallbladder. As the digestive fluids flow through the gallbladder, the cholesterol, fats, and salts that are in the bile can begin to stick together producing a gallstone. A gallstone can range in size from a grain of sand to an apricot. When a gallstone grows too large, it can block the bile duct and cause an infection. If the gallstone does not break up on its own, it may need to be removed along with the gallbladder.
Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. It can be either acute or chronic. Acute pancreatitis is defined as a sudden inflammation of the pancreas. The most common causes are heavy alcohol consumption and gallstones. Symptoms include intense abdominal pain, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, and increased heart rate. Acute pancreatitis can be life threatening condition and care should be sought immediately.
Chronic pancreatitis causes similar symptoms except the abdominal pain may be less severe and more like a constant dull ache. Chronic pancreatitis may indicate severe damage the pancreas where it’s no longer functioning properly. Long-term alcohol intake can cause chronic pancreatitis and irritate the pancreas triggering flare-ups.