Panning in on pancreatic problems

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Infographic: World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition

Despite the instrumental roles it plays in assisting the digestion process, pancreas remains one of the most underrated organs in the human body.

Located deep behind the stomach and right next to the small intestine, pancreas is a large gland that mainly releases digestive enzymes and produces vital hormones such as insulin and glucagon to regulate the body’s blood sugar, or glucose, levels.

Remember, proper blood sugar levels is crucial to the functioning of key organs including the brain, liver, and kidneys.

Pancreas is truly unique in that it contains both endocrine and exocrine glands. In other words, a healthy pancreas is also capable of releasing pancreatic juices and bile to help the body digest fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.

Therefore, it is important to note the direct relationship between a happy and healthy pancreas with one’s quality of life.

Common disorders related to pancreas

Acute Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. Acute pancreatitis typically does not last long and it may go away shortly after receiving treatments. Most patients recover completely within days.

Symptoms: Severe upper abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bloating, and fever.

Cause: Excessive alcohol consumption, gallstones, hereditary conditions, trauma, medications, infections, electrolyte abnormalities, high lipid levels and hormonal abnormalities.

Chronic Pancreatitis

It is a more severe inflammation of the pancreas. Over time, it may get worse and deteriorate the health of your pancreas. Patients may suffer from malnutrition and weight loss, among others.

Symptoms: Similar to acute pancreatitis but mainly upper abdominal pain and diarrhea.

Cause: Excessive alcohol consumption, cystic fibrosis and other hereditary disorders of the pancreas. In some cases, the causes remained unknown.

Pancreatic cancer

While more research is needed to determine its cause, it is reported that the cancer begins when a tumor is formed due to the incessant growth of abnormal cells within the pancreas. According to a 2017 World Health Organisation (WHO) report, there were 156 deaths in Cambodia due to pancreatic cancer last year. It is listed as one of the top 25 causes of deaths in the country.

Symptoms: Abdominal pain, painless jaundice, weight loss, nausea and change in stool.

Cause: Unknown but it is highly advisable to keep fit, eat clean and monitor your weight as to not exceed the recommended body mass index for your height.

While the above may be the most common pancreatic ailments, there are other medical conditions that are related to the health of your pancreas. They are:

Diabetes

Since one of the pancreas’ functions is to produce insulin, any malfunctions may increase the amount of glucose in your bloodstreams, thereafter resulting in diabetes. There are several types of diabetes which require different medical attentions. Please consult a medical professional for a thorough diagnosis and more information.

Kidney failure

As we have learned, pancreas’ failure to produce insulin in the correct amount may trigger diabetes, which subsequently may induce kidney failure. If the condition is persistent, patients may need to opt for dialysis to eliminate waste products and excess fluid from the blood.

Respiratory problems

Those suffering from acute pancreatitis may experience chemical changes in their bodies that could affect regular lung functions. The level of oxygen in their blood could drop to a significantly low level.

How to diagnose pancreatic diseases?

Due to the pancreas’ location, it may be tricky to come to an accurate diagnosis via physical examination alone. One of the better alternatives include blood tests as they could help determine if the pancreas is experiencing any specific sets of symptoms.

The best tests remain radiographic tests such as computed tomography (CAT) scan, endoscopic ultrasound, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). They may also include endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) and magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) if an observation of the ducts is needed.

Meanwhile, in certain instances, the only choice is through surgical exploration.

Take care of your pancreas

As previously discussed, the human body can only work like a well-oiled machine when it is ‘maintained’ properly. As a general rule of thumb, keep in mind these do’s and don’ts:

1. Limit your alcohol consumption.

2. Eat a low-fat diet that includes whole grains and a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

3. Incorporate a steady workout routine into your weekly schedule.

4. Say no to cigarette-smoking as it may put your health at risk for various illnesses.

On top of abstaining from a sedentary lifestyle and maintaining your overall wellness, you can also opt for the extra protection by getting a proper life insurance solution, such as AIA (Samrab Chivit).

Launched in May last year, AIA​ is the first of its kind in Cambodia, covering treatments for critical illnesses such as cancer, stroke, liver, lung and heart diseases. In celebration of AIA’s 100th anniversary this year, AIA has recently been upgraded to cover kidney, pancreas diseases and major organ transplantation. The great news is that the upgrade applies to both existing and new customers at no extra costs.

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