Autoimmune Pancreatitis

What is an Autoimmune Pancreatitis?

Autoimmune pancreatitis (AIP) is a type of pancreatitis caused by the body’s natural defense system (the autoimmune system) attacking itself.

Types

There are two types of AIP which cause the same symptoms but for different reasons. Type 1 is also known as IgG4-related pancreatitis while Type 2 is just called Type 2 AIP. There still is a lot about why some people get either type of autoimmune pancreatitis and not others in similar health conditions.

Most patients with AIM also suffer from an autoimmune disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Both types of AIP are rare.

What are the Symptoms of an Autoimmune Pancreatitis?

Symptoms for both types of AIP are the same.

Symptoms include

They include passing dark colored urine and/or pale-colored stools, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, jaundice and extreme fatigue. Many also experience aggravating pain in their middle backs or the upper part of their abdomens.

Unfortunately, both types of AIP have the same symptoms as pancreatic cancer so anyone with symptoms needs to see a doctor right away.

WARNING: Some patients that have autoimmune pancreatitis will not show these symptoms but will have sudden inexplicable weight loss, pain in the abdomen and yellowing of the eye whites or skin. See a doctor as soon as possible.

Autoimmune Pancreatitis Causes

Autoimmune pancreatitis is a condition that causes a chronic inflammation. It is thought to be caused when the pancreas is subjected to steroid therapy, which results in the body’s immune system attacking that organ.

There are two subtypes of AIP that are now recognized, type 1 and type 2. Type 1 affects other organs besides the pancreas, such as the bile ducts in the liver, kidneys, salivary glands, and lymph nodes. Type 2 attacks the pancreas only.

Although the occurrence of autoimmune pancreatitis is rare, it is relatively easy to treat with the use of steroids. Autoimmune pancreatitis is often misdiagnosed as pancreatic cancer, with similar signs and symptoms, but the problems are very different, with different treatments as well. It is important that autoimmune pancreatitis be treated early for effective treatment.

How is Autoimmune Pancreatitis Treated?

Treatment for both types of AIP are similar.

Medication

First medication is given such as steroids, immunosuppressants and immunomodulators. Patients that are dehydrated due to constant vomiting may need IV fluids in order to stabilize.

Surgery

The biliary ducts may need to be drained, so surgery would be necessary to insert a stent in the digestive system.

Once the most serious symptoms subside, the patient may need to be on long-term enzymes to help the pancreas function properly. These are usually taken orally. People with Type 1 AIP need regular testing of lymph nodes, salivary glands, kidneys and livers to make sure there they continue to function normally.

Autoimmune Pancreatitis Prevention

Autoimmune pancreatitis causes no specific symptoms. Making matters worse is the fact that, besides taking care of one’s general health, there is nothing to do to prevent its onset. It is a good idea, however, to watch out for these common symptoms since they are effective signs of the condition.

Men over 60 are more at risk for Type 1 autoimmune pancreatitis, and general symptoms include multiple organ involvement, including the bile ducts, having extra fibrous tissue in the area of the stomach and intestine, and enlargement of the lymph nodes. Men and women over 40 are more at risk for Type 2 autoimmune pancreatitis, with symptoms including a 30% chance of having inflammatory bowel disease.

If you have any of these symptoms, don’t wait. Not only is autoimmune pancreatitis very treatable, but it is also very important that the problem not be pancreatic cancer. Both are treatable, but pancreatic cancer must be treated at a much sooner stage to be treated effectively. Only a visit to your doctor can ascertain the problem.

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Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2016
Last Updated:
November 14, 2017