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Recently Diagnosed With Pancreatitis? How Can You Manage Your Painful Symptoms?

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If you've recently received a formal diagnosis of pancreatitis from your physician, you may be relieved to finally have pinpointed the cause of your pain and various digestive symptoms. On the other hand, continuing to deal with these symptoms can be intense, and you may find that even the highest doses of over-the-counter pain relievers don't touch your discomfort once you're in the midst of a pancreatitis attack. What can you do to reduce the severity of your symptoms and begin to resume a more normal, pain-free life? Read on to learn more about managing chronic pancreatitis.

What can cause pancreatitis?

A pancreatitis attack happens when the pancreas becomes inflamed and painful -- often as a result of an infection, heavy alcohol use, or certain medications. This can lead to a swollen abdomen, fever, stabbing pains, gas, and other unpleasant digestive issues until the inflammation subsides. In cases of chronic pancreatitis, you may suffer attacks periodically throughout the year (especially during times of extreme stress or around the holidays when you're eating larger-than-normal amounts of rich food). These attacks can leave you debilitated for days or even weeks as you suffer sharp pains and digestive distress that can leave you feeling chained to the bathroom.

Fortunately, pancreatitis that is diagnosed at an early stage can usually be well managed with some dietary and lifestyle changes. Pancreatitis that has persisted for a few years may present more of a challenge for physicians, who will be required to treat the current pancreas inflammation as well as try to stem and repair any damage from past bouts of pancreatitis. Your best bet may be a nerve block or epidural that can shield you from most of your pancreas pain while you try some other methods (from diet to antibiotics) to get the inflammation under control on a longer-term basis.

What can you do to reduce the severity of your symptoms without prescription narcotics? 

Keeping your pancreas as free as possible from inflammation is the key to reducing the amount of pain you experience. Chronic inflammation can damage the cells of the pancreas, making it less effective at producing the various hormones and acids needed to process the food you eat. This cell damage can also impact nutrient absorption, and a damaged pancreas is also less effective at producing insulin, making you more vulnerable to diabetes and other pancreas disorders if you've suffered through untreated pancreatitis for months or years.

Switching to a diet high in antioxidants like leafy greens, dark berries, and whole grains (which naturally reduce inflammation) can improve your pancreas's function while also enhancing your overall health. You may want to discuss the use of inflammation-reducing supplements, like garlic, with your physician to see if this can boost your other dietary changes. You'll also want to avoid food and beverages that can aggravate your pancreas or increase inflammation, like alcohol, red meat, fatty foods (like bacon or certain cheeses) or some medications like aspirin. 

If you find that you're debilitated for several days after each pancreatitis attack, you'll also want to be more cognizant of when and how you use over-the-counter pain relievers. Taking some ibuprofen or acetaminophen early in your attack and maintaining a high dose for the next day or two (rather than waiting for the pain to return before you take additional pain relievers) can help you stay pain-free. On the other end of the spectrum, allowing yourself to reach a high level of pain before taking any pain relievers can make it impossible to get ahead of the pain without relying on prescription narcotics or other strong pain relievers. Talk to a local doctor and/or pharmacy about possible pain management ideas.