Pancreas and Liver Problems

Pancreas is a gland organ located below the stomach. Pancreas is considered as both exocrine and endocrine gland. Pancreas plays an important role in maintaining homeostasis where it produces several digestive enzymes and the hormones that are necessary for controlling blood glucose levels. Any harm or injury to pancreas may cause several problems.

Some of the common diseases of the pancreas

Pancreatitis: Inflammation of pancreas is called as pancreatitis and is of two types, acute and chronic. Acute pancreatitis is sudden and is caused because of gall stones or chronic alcoholism. Chronic pancreatitis occurs when the digestive enzymes attack and destroy the pancreas. Acute pancreatitis that damages pancreatic duct may lead to chronic pancreatitis. The major cause for chronic pancreatitis is chronic alcoholism. It is characterised with abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Certain complications of pancreatitis may require surgery. If pancreatitis results from gallstones, cholecystectomy is performed. It is surgical removal of the gallbladder.

In open cholecystectomy, a long incision 5 to 8 inch is made in the abdomen. The incision runs from below the ribs to below the waist.

Laparoscopic cholecystectomy is an invasive technique to remove the gall bladder. Several small incisions are made in the abdomen rather than a large incision. The technique uses a laparoscope, a small thin tube instrument attached with tiny camera and lens that enables to view the inner area on a larger screen.

If certain complications such as enlargement of pancreas, bleeding, pseudocysts or abscess develop, surgical drainage or repair or removal of the affected tissues may be needed.

Pancreatic Cancer: It is an uncontrolled cell division in the pancreas. Individuals with a habit of smoking, chronic alcoholism and those having diabetes mellitus are at high risk of developing cancer. Chronic pancreatitis if left untreated may cause cancer. Risk of cancer is also high in individuals with a family history of pancreatic cancer. Various diagnostic procedures such as abdominal ultrasound, abdominal computed tomography, percutaneous biopsy, and/or endoscopic biopsy are the performed to diagnose pancreatic cancer. Treatment depends on the stage of cancer and may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and/or surgery.

The Whipple procedure is the most common surgical procedure for pancreatic cancer. It is performed for the cancer of the head of the pancreas. In this procedure, the head of pancreas, duodenum, gall bladder and a portion of stomach is removed.

Distal subtotal pancreatectomy is another surgical treatment performed when the pancreatic cancer is in the body or tail of the pancreas. In this procedure, body and tail of the pancreas as well as the spleen is removed.

Cystic Fibrosis: It is a genetic disease where the mucus producing organs and glands produce thick and sticky mucus that block the ducts or openings. In lungs it blocks the airways and cause breathing problems whereas in pancreas the pancreatic duct will be blocked so that the digestive enzymes may not reach the small intestine and finally causes digestive problems and malnutrition. The symptoms may vary between the individuals and the most common symptoms include blockade of passage of first stool by bay, breathing problems, severe cough, diarrhoea, salty sweat, and impaired growth. It is diagnosed by sweat test or genetic test. Cystic fibrosis cannot be cured completely. However the treatments improve the longevity. It can be treated with drugs and nutritional supplements. Pancreatic enzyme replacement capsules are taken along with the meal, to replace pancreatic enzymes and help the body convert food into energy. Creon, pancrease, pancreacarb, cotazym and ultrase are common pancreatic enzyme medications.

Diabetes: Pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that breaks up glucose. Deficiency of this hormone causes diabetes mellitus. Diabetes mellitus is of two types, type 1 and type 2. In type 1 diabetes, pancreas loses its ability to make the insulin because the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. In type 2 diabetes because of insulin resistance the insulin produced may not be suffice to meet the needs of thereby increasing the glucose levels in blood.

Liver diseases

Liver is the largest organ of the body, located in the upper right portion of abdomen. It is a vital organ with many important functions.

The liver functions are:

  • Secretes bile for digestion of fats
  • Replaces damaged cells
  • Detoxifies blood
  • Converts glucose to glycogen which is stored in liver cells and reconversion of glycogen to glucose when required
  • Stores nutrients and vitamins
  • Stores iron for red blood cell (RBCs) production
  • Secretes cholesterol and produces amino acids

Liver disease is any condition that affects liver function. Some of the diseases of liver are:

Hepatitis: Is the inflammation of the liver caused by viruses.  Hepatitis A is caused by hepatitis A virus (HAV), spread primarily through food or water contaminated by stool from an infected person. Hepatitis B caused by hepatitis B virus, and spreads by contact with an infected person’s blood, semen and other body fluids. Hepatitis C caused by hepatitis C virus spreads through contact with the infected person’s blood and also through sex and from mother to baby during childbirth. There is no specific treatment for hepatitis and resolves themselves.

Cirrhosis: It is a chronic liver disease characterised by abnormal structure and function of the liver. Healthy liver tissue is replaced by scar tissue, partially blocking the flow of blood through the liver. Treatment includes avoidance of alcohol, nutritional therapy and other therapies. Cirrhosis when not controlled by treatment, liver transplantation is considered. It is the final option for patients with liver failure. It is a major surgery in which the diseased liver is removed and replaced with a healthy liver from a donor.

Cancer: It is a cancer arising from the liver and results from the abnormal growth of the cells in the liver. It is also known as hepatocellular carcinoma. Early cancers can be treated by surgery or a liver transplantation. The treatment options for liver cancer are:

Partial hepatectomy is surgery wherein affected part of the liver is removed along with some of the healthy tissue around it. Total hepatectomy is surgical removal of entire diseased liver and replacing it with the healthy donated liver.

Radiofrequency ablation is another method wherein special probes with tiny electrodes are used to kill the cancer cells. High energy radio waves coming from the probe destroy the cancer cells.

Treatment includes

Cryosurgery: Is a type of surgery that uses an instrument to freeze and destroy the cancerous cells.
Laser treatment: Is similar to radiofrequency ablation procedure, but uses lasers instead of radio waves to destroy the tumours.

Hemochromatosis: it is an inherited liver disease associated with abnormal accumulation of iron in multiple organs, leading to organ toxicity. The first step in the treatment is to get rid of excess iron from the body.

Phlebotomy: is withdrawal of blood from the arm veins every one to two weeks. It is done by incising or cutting a vein and just letting the blood flow into a container. This procedure improves the liver function, and prevents the development of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Jaundice: Is not a disease, but rather a symptom of liver diseases. It is yellow discoloration of skin due to high levels of bilirubin in the blood.

  • Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine
  • The Royal Austrailian College of General Practitioners
  • Flinders University
  • GPA
  • Healthscope
  • GPEX