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Your pancreas spends most of its time nestled quietly against your backbone, gently secreting powerful juices that aid your digestion. These enzymes literally tear apart the food you eat, dismantling proteins and breaking down complex fats.  But what happens when this inferno of powerful chemicals gets out of control?  The destructive pancreatic enzymes can attack their owner, literally digesting your own body from the inside out.

Many patients with pancreatitis show up in emergency rooms moaning with agony, curled up with a pillow pressed against their stomach. They are often dehydrated and poorly nourished by their inability to eat or drink, tormented by continuous burning pain that radiates to the back and is often associated with uncontrollable vomiting.  Once triggered, pancreatitis can rapidly turn in a life-threatening illness that can leave the owner with permanent disabilities like diabetes or scarred pancreatic cysts.

Patients are given pain medicine, IV fluids and a plastic tube that runs through the nose into the stomach, where it helps ease the pain by sucking up digestive juices that might stimulate pancreatic activity.  Food can reactivate the illness, so patients must endure the suffering of slow starvation as well.  For some, surgical removal of the pancreas is a last-ditch effort in life-or-death cases.

Gallstones can be a common cause of pancreatitis, and these patients are likely to make a prompt trip to the operating room for cholecystectomy.  Occational cases can be cured by fixing malformation of pancreatic ducts, treating diabetes or steroid side effects.

But the best way to avoid pancreatitis altogether is to give up the most common cause -- alcohol.  Even a single drink can provoke pancreatitis in some, and should be regarded as poisonous drug for these sufferers.  Incredibly, many relapsing pancreatitis patients continue to drink anyway, unable to resist the temptation of alcohol even as it drags them inexorably toward a painful death.

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