The pancreas is a critical organ that releases digestive enzymes into the small intestine—enzymes that help the body digest carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Located near the stomach and duodenum, this long, flat gland also transmits insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream to help control the body’s blood sugar level.

When the pancreas is functioning properly, it secretes approximately eight cups of pancreatic juice with those enzymes into the duodenum each day. Typically, those enzymes don’t activate until they get to the small intestine. However, if those enzymes are activated while still in the pancreas, inflammation and swelling occurs, which results in pancreatitis. 

pancreatitisIf you suffer from chronic pancreatitis, you may qualify for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). Unfortunately, it’s not easy to submit a winning claim and prove that your condition makes it impossible for you to sustain gainful employment.

Because obtaining disability benefits can be challenging, it’s helpful to hire an experienced Social Security (SS) disability attorney to assist you when filing a claim.

Facts About Pancreatitis

If you’ve been diagnosed with pancreatitis, it’s important to understand this medical condition and what to do to ensure that it doesn’t become a long-lasting, life-threatening disease. Here are some important facts about pancreatitis.

Alcoholism Isn't the Primary Cause of Pancreatitis

Every year, approximately 210,000 Americans are admitted to the hospital with acute pancreatitis. Many believe that alcoholism is the primary cause of this condition, but the most common cause is gallstones. These stones, tiny and pebble-like and made of hardened bile, can block the bile duct while passing through and stop the digestive enzymes from making it to the small intestine. When this happens, the stones are forced back into the pancreas, irritate the pancreatic cells, and cause inflammation associated with pancreatitis.

While gallstones are the number one cause of acute pancreatitis, they don't cause chronic pancreatitis.

There Are Two Types of Pancreatitis

Acute Pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis is the sudden inflammation of the pancreas. This condition comes on quickly with a patient experiencing severe pain in the upper abdomen. Most often, acute pancreatitis subsides within a few days, but it can also be life-threatening. Approximately 10 percent of patients die of this disease. After being hospitalized with this condition, most patients are given a blood test to determine if there are digestive enzymes in their pancreas. In patients with acute pancreatitis, amylase or lipase levels are typically three times higher than the normal level.

Therapies to treat pancreatitis include 24–48 hours without food. This allows the pancreas and bowels to rest. Additionally, intravenous fluids are given to patients because there's a great deal of swelling and inflammation in the pancreas, and fluids help to hydrate the body and ensure all organs receive proper blood flow for healing. After these therapies, most patients can begin eating again, and many will find that their pancreatitis has resolved.

Chronic Pancreatitis

Unlike acute pancreatitis, chronic pancreatitis doesn't improve or heal. Patients with this condition typically find their condition worsens, and they may experience permanent damage to the pancreas. It's a long-lasting disease that can cause extremely serious health problems.

The pain experienced by patients who suffer from chronic pancreatitis can last for weeks, and the pain can spread to the back and typically is exacerbated by eating or drinking. Patients may also experience nausea and vomiting. Quite often, the pain ceases as the disease gets worse, likely because the pancreas stops making the digestive enzymes that are attacking it.

Known Triggers That Make Digestive Enzymes Attack the Pancreas

While it’s not known why the digestive enzymes attack the pancreas, doctors understand some of the triggers, which include:

  • Ducts between the liver and the pancreas become blocked
  • Large quantities of alcohol or binge drinking
  • High calcium or triglyceride levels in the blood
  • Injuries due to falls, car accidents, or sports
  • Types of antibiotics
  • Tumors
  • Gallstones
  • Mumps or other infections

You Can Live Without Your Pancreas

It’s possible to live without your pancreas, but if you need surgery to remove it, you’ll have to make certain lifestyle changes. Because the pancreas makes substances to help the body digest food and control blood sugar, you’ll need to take medication that will ensure these functions. Additionally, your body won’t be able to produce the correct amount of insulin, so you'll develop diabetes. And you’ll need to take an enzyme replacement drug to assist with food digestion when you eat.

If you do need surgery to have your pancreas removed, life expectancy after this type of surgery is higher now than in past years. One study reported that 76 percent of patients with noncancerous pancreatitis conditions had a seven-year survival rate after surgery.

Your Pancreatitis May Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits

If you’ve been diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis or your condition has become debilitating and you’re unable to work, you may qualify for SS disability benefits. Hiring an experienced SS attorney can help determine if you meet a listing in the Blue Book or your condition could be evaluated under residual functional capacity.

Contact the attorneys at Cuddigan Law who can help you understand the process and work with you on your application to increase your chances of getting an approved claim.


Timothy J. Cuddigan (Founder - Retired)
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Omaha Social Security and Veterans Disability Lawyer With Over 40 Years Experience