Pain in the Pancreas After Eating

Your pancreas is an organ in your abdomen involved in digestion. If you experience pain in your pancreas after eating, it could be a sign of some underlying disorder, such as gallstones or other problems with your pancreas. Pancreatic pain can progress gradually or it can come on suddenly. In either case, you should talk to your doctor if you experience pain after eating.

Pancreas pain can happen after eating. (Image: rez-art/iStock/Getty Images)

Pancreas Function

One of the reasons why you may experience pain in your pancreas after eating is because your pancreas is important for digestion. Your pancreas secretes many different proteins, known as enzymes, that help break down the different nutrients in food. When you eat food, it stimulates your pancreas to contract and release its enzymes into your small intestine. This can trigger pain if there is some other problem with your pancreas.

Mechanism of Pancreas Damage

Impaired pancreatic function can cause the pancreas to hurt when you eat food due to premature activation of the pancreatic enzymes. Normally the digestive enzymes in the pancreas are only activated once they have left the pancreas. However, if something is wrong with your pancreas, these enzymes can become activated inside of the pancreas. The digestive enzymes will partially break down the pancreatic tissue, causing inflammation and pain.

Causes

The most common cause of an acutely inflamed pancreas is gallstones, which are small deposits made of bile that can get lodged in the bile duct. Certain medications, trauma, infections, heavy alcohol use, tumors and genetic disorders can cause gallstones. Chronic pancreatitis is usually caused by long-term alcohol abuse, though high levels of fats or calcium in your blood, autoimmune diseases and other health problems can also cause chronic inflammation. Over time, pain in your pancreas due to inflammation can cause permanent damage and scarring of your pancreas.

Treatment

If you experience pain after eating, you may need to go to a hospital fast. Repairing the damage done to your pancreas can cause your body to become dehydrated, so you may need intravenous fluids. After that, additional treatments to correct the underlying cause of your pancreatic pain, such as removal of gallstones, pancreatic surgery or treatment for alcohol abuse, may also be needed.

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