Autoimmune Pancreatitis, abbreviated as AIP, is a chronic inflammatory condition in which the internal defence mechanism of the body identifies the pancreatic cells as foreign bodies and destroys the living elements. The pancreas is a relatively big-sized gland situated at the rear end of the stomach and besides the upper duodenal segment of the small intestine. It is placed in the abdominal cavity next to the spleen and liver. It performs the rather crucial role of transporting enzymes to the stomach, to facilitate the unobstructed digestion of key macronutrients in food - carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Moreover, the pancreas also supplies the hormones insulin and glucagon, which break down sugars and convert them to energy, thereby controlling blood glucose levels.
Since healthy tissues that compose the pancreas are depleted in this disorder, with prominent signs of discoloured urine, stools and abdominal pain, AIP is often mistaken for pancreatic cancer, which also presents similar indications. Thus, in order to precisely diagnose and treat autoimmune pancreatitis, it is important to understand the trigger factors, defining signs and associated complications of this rare ailment.
Types Of Autoimmune Pancreatitis
There are two types of AIP, type 1 autoimmune pancreatitis, also termed as IgG4-related pancreatitis and type 2 autoimmune pancreatitis, otherwise known as idiopathic duct-centric pancreatitis.
Type 1 AIP typically affects several major organs in the body, including the pancreas, renal cells like in kidney cancer, bile ducts in the liver and other hepatic components, lymphatic tissues and salivary glands.
On the other hand, Type 2 AIP solely hampers the operations of only the pancreas, along with related gastrointestinal problems of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
The nature of AIP being autoimmune, medical professionals, doctors and researchers have confirmed the abnormal activity of the body’s own internal immune system, in attacking the pancreas. Although the causative factors behind AIP are yet to be determined, healthcare experts have identified certain risk factors that make people more prone to acquiring AIP.
Most people with confirmed cases of Type 1 AIP were reported to be men over the age of 60, making the older male population more inclined to contracting IgG4-related pancreatitis.
Since the majority of instances of Type 2 AIP were observed in both men and women above the age of 40, alongside underlying gut complications of IBD, middle-aged individuals have higher chances of developing idiopathic duct-centric pancreatitis.
Autoimmune pancreatitis does not present any prominent signs in the majority of cases, making it quite challenging to diagnose. When the indications exhibit obviously, they resemble those of pancreatic cancer and consist of the following:
Dark and discoloured urine
Irregular light-coloured stools
Discomfort in the abdomen and back pain
Noticeable yellowing of skin and eyes, like in jaundice
Nausea, dizziness and vomiting
Sudden and immense weight loss
Excessive lethargy, fatigue and weak feeling in the body
In addition, being a persistent illness, autoimmune pancreatitis often triggers consequences of diabetes and pancreatic calcifications or stones.
Autoimmune pancreatitis is a very tough illness to diagnose since its symptoms are exactly like that of pancreatic cancer. However, a series of imaging scans and blood profiling tests can help to identify an instance of AIP.
The visual analyses performed include CT scans, MRIs and ultrasound images of the pancreas, to look for any faulty signs. Blood samples are collected from the patient and probed for the presence of immunoglobulins and other proteins that help to confirm the instance of AIP. Furthermore, a tissue sample is excised from the pancreas and this biopsy is utilised to study the possibility of any structural and other defects in the glands.
Once the diagnosis and type of AIP are confirmed in the patient, the pertinent treatment measures are initiated. There is no complete cure for AIP, but the symptoms can be alleviated and the functioning of the pancreas can be improved with timely medical intervention.
The physician prescribes steroid medications, as well as immunosuppressant drugs and enzymatic supplements, to ensure the ceasing of the body’s immune system attacking the pancreatic cells and improve the regular activity of the pancreas. Medications for diabetes, to keep blood sugar in check, as well as surgical procedures like biliary stenting, to drain out surplus fluids in bile ducts are also carried out, to restore normal metabolism in the patient and help them regain optimal functioning of the pancreas.