The pancreas is a poorly understood and highly underestimated digestive organ. It is hidden deep within our abdomen, behind the stomach. It is responsible for performing the formidable job of digesting fats and is also tasked with the production of important enzymes and hormones (like insulin and glucagon), that are necessary for digestion.
Pancreatic cancer is the 12th most commonly diagnosed type in the world. But it is at the very bottom in terms of survival rates, with pancreatic cancer patients often succumbing before the five-year mark. It also responds badly when it is inflamed. Pancreatic inflammation can result in pancreatitis, which in severe cases, may lead to death.
This humble organ works almost thanklessly when it is healthy. But when it is off, things can go horribly wrong in very little time. The key is to remain aware of the state of your pancreas and keep it constantly healthy and happy. Here are seven warning signals that tell you when your pancreas might be in trouble.
7. Constant Abdominal Pain
There are several things that can cause your stomach to hurt – overeating, eating the wrong foods, menstrual cramps, or poor digestion. But this is the kind of stinging pain that takes over the middle portion of your abdomen (behind the stomach area).
If it descends on you suddenly with no warning whatsoever (like after a meal or after eating certain types of foods), then it is likely to be pancreatitis. The good news is that when it is detected early, its symptoms can be managed through medication and the right changes in lifestyle.
On the other hand, if the pain starts in the middle of your abdomen and then moves towards your back, it could be a warning sign of cancer. Unfortunately, abdomen pains have become so common with our modern lifestyle that we tend to ignore them and carry on. This is the reason pancreatic cancer is often fatal – because it is detected fairly late in its cycle.
The best way to find out the root cause of your pain is to lie down on your back. If this only makes you feel worse, it could be triggered by the pancreas, as they feel even more stifled. This is where we suggest that you have at least a quick chat with your doctor, so you can rest assured that your pancreas is not at risk.
6. Pale Stool
An old adage says, “You can tell a lot about a person’s health by looking at his poop.” Your pancreas is responsible for feeding key enzymes into your intestines to aid digestion. When it is adversely affected, you automatically begin to absorb fewer nutrients from your food, which shows up in your poop. The stool may be oily and less dense, indicating that the food hasn’t been completely broken down and digested.
If this only happens after the odd indulgent meal, you have no cause for worry. But if you notice that your stools steadily stay pale, give your pancreatic problems a break and get yourself checked out by a GP.Related: 10 Foods That Help You Poop
5. Nausea After Eating
This happens mostly after a “fatty” meal. Pizza, burgers, red meat, and high-fat meals are all potential triggers. Imagine if you were to swallow a cup of cooking oil. You would feel like you want to puke, right? This is exactly like that! If the pancreas is not working right, then it is not producing enough fat-digesting enzymes.
So a large part of your food, especially the toxic, fatty versions, stays undigested. This can cause you to feel nauseous and even throw up after the meal. Experts advise that if this happens frequently enough, it could be a warning sign of acute pancreatitis. In this case, it is also likely to be accompanied by fever and an increased heart rate.
4. Unexplained Weight Loss
This is often a reason to celebrate. But be warned – if you are losing weight with no obvious effort (i.e., you are not dieting or following a fitness routine), then your pancreas may be causing the trouble. Your improper digestion (fueled by poor enzyme secretion) reduces your immunity, which in turns leads to poor nutrition.
Therefore, even when you are eating heartily, your body feels like it is starving. In odd cases, the weight loss can even be caused by gallbladder stones. Either way, this kind of no-effort weight loss is not a blessing, but a warning from the pancreas! If you let it slide, be prepared for worse symptoms to follow.
No surprise here – it is the pancreas that is responsible for releasing enough insulin into our blood so that sugar is completely digested. So if our pancreas is in trouble, our blood is in trouble too. And if this is so, can blood-related disorders such as diabetes – any form of it – be far behind? The answer is a clear “no.”
In most cases, it leads to diabetes mellitus (type 2 diabetes). But in rare cases, pancreas-triggered problems can even lead to type 1 diabetes. Here, you should know that you will have to combat this with a life sentence of insulin injections. Enough said!Related: 7 Most Common Symptoms of Diabetes
2. Headaches, Fatigue, Loss of Focus
Let’s take a bird’s eye view here. Your pancreas is in poor shape, which means your body does not get enough nutrients from food. This means your immunity steadily goes down. In other words, every little virus that attacks your body is likely to succeed. As a result, you find yourself constantly tired and often succumbing to headaches, with a marked lack of concentration. They can all follow in very quick succession.
1. An Accelerated Heart Rate
A rapid heart rate is generally considered to be over 100 beats per minute. A normal heart rate is between 60 to 100 beats per minute. When your heart beats too fast, it doesn’t effectively pump blood through your body, resulting in a lack of oxygen being delivered to your organs. This symptom is typically tied to heavy alcohol consumption.
This is again driven by your lowered immunity, which is in turn driven by poor digestion because the pancreas is out of order. Researchers have shown how this acute pancreatitis can cause tachycardia, which manifests as frequent nausea and vomiting, followed by fever. In severe cases, it can even lead to more fatal problems, resulting in lack of clarity, constant confusion, and in the worst case, a coma. This happens even as the entire respiratory system breaks down. As you can see, it is all one vicious cycle!
Pancreatic problems do not occur overnight. Rather, they are a manifestation of continuously poor eating habits, lack of exercise that often leads to obesity, alcohol indulgence, red meat consumption, smoking, sugar addiction, and so forth. The good news is that this organ is ridiculously easy to please.
If you take note of the first sign of mid-abdomen pains, especially when coupled with the above-listed symptoms, and consult your doctor, there is a lot you can do to help your pancreas get back to peak function.
The trick is to act before the symptoms reach the point of no return. For instance, you could replace your fatty, meat-loaded meal with simpler-to-digest greens and beans (like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and whole grains), which can do wonders to help relieve your otherwise overloaded pancreas.
You can also increase your protein intake – without resorting to meat – through soy products, lentils, and legumes (though there is nothing wrong with eating meat). If you decide to address your poor lifestyle habits with a serious commitment, this will please your pancreas to no end. And in as little time as it took for your health to decline, you will see results, as your pancreas makes a U-turn and begins cruising towards good health. Never forget that your pancreas truly is easy come and easy go!Related: 10 Things to Know About Pancreatic Cancer