Lupus and Pancreatitis Explained

People With Lupus Sometimes Develop Associated Pancreatitis

The location of the pancreas.
The location of the pancreas. PIXOLOGICSTUDIO/Getty Images

Lupus is often called a disease of symptoms, manifesting itself through several related conditions. With lupus, the body makes antibodies to itself, which can then attack a variety of organ systems resulting in a variety of symptoms. Lupus often affects major systems and organs in the body, including the pancreas. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, it is called pancreatitis.

A closer look at lupus 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 pancreatitis: 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 cause permanent damage or destroy the pancreas if left untreated. Either form can cause serious complications including the following:

  • 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 in people 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.

Diagnosing lupus pancreatitis

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 and possibly order a blood test, to determine whether there is an increase in the digestive enzymes amylase and lipase, which indicate a diagnosis of pancreatitis. Your physician may also order an abdominal ultrasound and a CT (computerized axial tomography) scan.

Treating Pancreatitis

People with lupus will receive similar treatment to that those people with pancreatitis not associated with lupus. Treatment may include intravenous hydration, resting the pancreas by permitting no oral intake, and antibiotics. Lupus patients are usually treated with corticosteroids with or 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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