Pancreatitis is a condition where the pancreas is inflamed. As a gland, it is responsible for producing some enzymes which are important for digestion, but it also has the important job of making insulin

For people with the disease, their quality of life can reduce significantly. This is especially true in the case of chronic pancreatitis. However, stem cell therapy provides an exciting new hope for people with this condition.

This article will talk about the causes and symptoms seen in the disease, the differences between the acute and chronic forms, and the use of stem cells to treat chronic pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis: Its root causes

The basis of the health condition is that the pancreas gets inflamed. This happens when the digestive enzymes that the gland produces are activated before they’ve left the pancreas entirely. These enzymes then begin to act on the tissue of the pancreas itself, causing inflammation.

Activation of the pancreatic enzymes before the digestive tract is not meant to happen. However, there are quite a few conditions that can result in this, and ultimately cause pancreatitis. The common of these are:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption;
  • Gallstones;
  • Elevated triglycerides in the blood (hypertriglyceridemia);
  • Elevated calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia);
  • Cancer of the pancreas;
  • Using certain medications, such as acetaminophen, erythromycin, hydrochlorothiazide, etc.;
  • Abdominal surgery;
  • Abdominal injury;
  • Infections, usually bacterial or viral.

Symptoms and early warning signs

Pancreatitis symptoms depend particularly on the kind of disease a person is suffering from – acute or chronic.

In the case of the acute stage, the following features are the most likely to be seen:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen (sometimes felt in the back)
  • Pain that worsens after eating food
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Increased heart rate

The outcome of acute pancreatitis is typically very favorable. However, the same can’t be said about chronic pancreatitis, which can potentially be fatal. Because of this, it is important to consider the symptoms of acute pancreatitis to be warning signs.

When chronic, the symptoms of pancreatitis tend to be prolonged. They include the following:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen
  • Pain that worsens after eating food
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Oily stools that smell bad (steatorrhea)
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Frequent diarrhea
  • Symptoms of diabetes
  • Yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)

Comparing acute and chronic pancreatitis

While acute and chronic pancreatitis may have a few similar symptoms, they are very different conditions in many ways.

Acute pancreatitis tends to start suddenly and resolves quickly too. It will resolve for most patients within two weeks. It is sometimes caused by gallstones. Over a third of patients who have the acute stage of the disease multiple times will progress to the chronic stage of the condition.

However, when it comes to chronic pancreatitis, the onset is more gradual. This is due to the disease being caused by continuous damage to the pancreas over time. Unlike the acute type, patients tend not to make a full recovery due to permanent damage to the pancreas. In many cases, it is commonly brought on by excessive alcohol consumption.

Strategies for preventing pancreatitis

To improve your chances of preventing either form of pancreatitis, it is important to attempt to eliminate risk factors with appropriate lifestyle changes. These tips can also be useful during a pancreatitis treatment.

  1. Gallstones are a common cause of pancreatitis. Preventing gallstones is mostly reliant on improving your diet. Reducing the amount of cholesterol and fatty foods that you take in is essential. However, eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains daily can also help. Staying at a healthy weight is beneficial as well.
  2. Alcohol is another prime cause of pancreatitis. While it is optimal to completely cut off alcohol, it is understandable that most people won’t be able to do this right away. As a result, it is best to keep weekly alcohol consumption under 14 units. It is also advisable to avoid drinking too much alcohol at a go.
  3. Smoking is a risk factor for this disease, so quitting can significantly reduce the risk of developing it. Similar to alcohol, it is ideal to quit entirely, but this can be hard to achieve in practice. You can reach out to a healthcare professional if you need help quitting smoking.

Using stem cells to treat pancreatitis by 2023

When it comes to chronic pancreatitis treatment, the goal is to manage the symptoms and eliminate the potential causes. When considering conventional medicine, there is no cure and the damage to the pancreas cannot be repaired.

However, there seems to be a lot of promise in using stem cell therapy for pancreatitis. For people suffering from either form of the disease, the use of mesenchymal stem cells harvested from fat or other sources can reduce inflammation and fibrosis in the pancreas.

Besides being able to reduce the damage to the pancreas, there is also evidence to show that adipose mesenchymal stem cells can turn to pancreas cells to take the place of destroyed pancreatic tissue. If the tissues responsible for producing insulin or digestive enzymes in the pancreas are damaged, these cells can replace them and take up their duty.

The success of the therapy will depend on the duration of the disease, the treatment program, the quality of cells, and the individual susceptibility of the patient to drugs based on stem cells.

Concluding remarks

Stem cells are one of the most exciting new forms of treatment being adopted in healthcare. As a regenerative medicine approach, they have the potential to safely treat conditions that are deemed to have no cure, including chronic pancreatitis.

Stem cell therapy is available in many parts of the world but is yet to be adopted as a mainstream form of treatment despite the evidence showing its safety and efficacy. Do you think it is worth watching pancreatitis degrade your quality of life when stem cell therapy can potentially stop it in its tracks?