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Lupus and Pancreatitis

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Updated June 25, 2014

Lupus is often called a disease of symptoms, manifesting itself through several related conditions, often affecting major systems and organs in the body, including the pancreas. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, it is called pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis:

Located behind the stomach in the upper abdomen, the pancreas produces enzymes and hormones that aid in digestion, as well has help regulate blood sugar levels. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, the condition is considered a severe -- and in some cases life-threatening –- illness.

There are two main forms of the illness -– acute and chronic. Acute pancreatitis occurs suddenly, lasts for a short period of time, and often resolves on its own. Chronic pancreatitis does not resolve on its own and can permanent damage or destroy the pancreas if left untreated. Either form can cause serious complications, such as:

  • Bleeding, tissue damage, and infection
  • Development of pseudocysts, accumulations of fluid and tissue debris
  • The introduction of enzymes and toxins into bloodstream, which could damage the heart, lungs, kidneys, or other organs

Signs and symptoms of pancreatitis in people with lupus are similar to those without lupus, but treating the illness can be quite different.

Pancreatitis is, at times, the first symptom of lupus, as well. And most people with lupus-associated pancreatitis have other symptoms and signs of active lupus.

What the Doctor will Look For:

Pancreatitis associated with lupus is uncommon, but because of the possible severe and life-threatening complications associated with it, your doctor will investigate the possibility, should you report abdominal pain.

Signs and symptoms associated with acute pancreatitis include:

  • Pain – sometimes severe and constant – in the upper abdomen that may last days.
  • Pain that is sudden or comes on gradually, getting worse when food is eaten.
  • Swollen and tender abdomen
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Rapid pulse
  • Dehydration and low blood pressure with severe cases.

Your healthcare professional will conduct a medical history and physical exam, an possibly order a blood test, to determine whether there is an increase in the digestive enzymes amylase and lipase, among other indicators. He may also order an abdominal ultrasound and a CAT (computerized axial tomography) scan.

Treating Pancreatitis:

People with lupus will receive similar treatment to that of non-lupus-associated pancreatitis patients. Treatment may include intravenous hydration, resting the pancreas by permitting no oral intake, and antibiotics. Lupus patients are usually treated with corticosteroids with and without cytotoxic agents, including azathioprine, cyclophosphamide, and mycophenolate mofetil.

Sources:

Pancreatitis. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. February 2004.

Pancreatitis: JAMA Patient Fact Sheet. Journal of the American Medical Association. June 2004

Involvement of the Pancreas in Lupus. Lupus Foundation of America. January 2005.

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