Another good reason to watch your weight: Experts say obesity has likely contributed to a common, but potentially fatal condition called acute pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis is essentially inflammation of the pancreas, Dr. Christian Mayorga said, and the majority of cases in the United States are caused by alcohol and gallstones. Most cases of acute pancreatitis are mild and seldom have any related complications.
However, 15 to 20 percent of cases develop into severe form of pancreatitis, which be deadly, Mayorga said.
Mayorga is a clinical chief at Parkland Health & Hospital System and an assistant professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
About the pancreas: "The pancreas sits in the mid-upper abdomen, towards the back, behind the stomach. It serves a very important function, not only in digestion but also processing our metabolism of glucose, a vital substance for life. It produces enzymes that break down the nutrients we consume in our diets. And it also produces insulin, which plays a vital role in how the body processes sugars."
How gallstones and obesity cause pancreatitis: "We’ve known for a long time that obesity is a risk factor for the development of gallstones. It probably has to do with the amount of fat or cholesterol in the bile, which is what is stored in the gallbladder.
"The higher the concentration of cholesterol in the bile, the higher the likelihood that gallstones will form in the gallbladder. And if you have gallstones, these gallstones travel down the bile ducts, which are the tubes that drain bile into the small intestine. Sometimes these gallstones can cause blockages, which can cause obstruction and can set up for a bout of acute pancreatitis."
Other causes of pancreatitis:
- Abdominal surgery
- Certain medications
- Cigarette smoking
- Cystic fibrosis
- Family history of pancreatitis
- High calcium levels in the blood (hypercalcemia), which may be caused by an overactive parathyroid gland (hyperparathyroidism)
- High triglyceride levels in the blood (hypertriglyceridemia)
- Injury to the abdomen
- Pancreatic cancer
Treating pancreatitis: "Treatment is first geared at the underlying cause. For instance, if a patient develops acute pancreatitis because of gallstones, sometimes these gallstones are causing a blockage there. We have special procedures that are aimed at removing that blockage, which allows for appropriate flow of the problem that’s causing the pancreatitis and that will help with the resolution."
- Upper abdominal pain
- Abdominal pain that radiates to your back
- Abdominal pain that feels worse after eating
- Tenderness when touching the abdomen