Gillian Wright health: EastEnders star wanted to ‘end it all’ after deadly health battle

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The 61-year-old actress had a real “brush with death,” after being rushed to A&E after suffering with “unbelievable” stomach pains. After playing character Jean, who suffers with bipolar disorder, it is safe to say that the actress is comfortable acting in a hospital setting. But her own health condition was far from an EastEnders scene, seeing the actress rushed into hospital, leaving family members “frantic” with worry.

The condition that Wright suffered from was acute pancreatitis – a serious condition where the pancreas becomes inflamed.

She first noticed symptoms – a sharp pain in the stomach that would not go away – whilst at a dog agility class. After making it home with her pooch named Professor Scruff, a neighbour rang 999 where she was then “whisked to hospital”.

In a rare interview, Gillian told the Sunday Mirror: “It was touch and go.

“It’s no exaggeration to say I had a real brush with death.

“I was so ill my parents flew down from the Highlands of Scotland to look after me. And my sister, Lois, and nephew, Stanley, were frantic,” she said.

“The pain was unbearable. If somebody had given me the choice of living with that pain a day longer or swallowing a pill to end it all, I’d have taken the tablet.

“No question. It was unbelievable.”

According to the Pancreas Foundation, mortality of acute pancreatitis has remained at about 10 percent despite modern advances in medicine. Diagnosis of the condition is often problematic due to the organ being relatively inaccessible.

Without surgery there is no easy way to see the pancreas directly and imaging studies also often provide inadequate results.

Causes of acute pancreatitis

Each year there are more than 300,000 admissions to hospital for treatment of the condition in the US.

The most common cause of the condition is stones in the gallbladder. Gallstones pass through the common bile duct to enter the small intestine. At the entrance to the small intestine the main pancreatic duct joins. It is believed that gallstones get stuck in that common bile duct impinging on the pancreatic duct and causing an obstruction to the normal flow of pancreatic fluid.

Other causes of the condition include excessive alcohol consumption and binge drinking. Although not fully understood how this happens, it is believed that alcohol causes the pancreas to become swollen.

The condition can also be hereditary – as it seemed to be in Wright’s case.

Symptoms of acute pancreatitis

Similarly to what Wright experienced, the main symptoms is severe pain that suddenly develops in the centre of your tummy. This aching can get gradually worse and travel along your back.

Other symptoms to be aware of include the following:

  • Feeling or being sick (vomiting)
  • Diarrhoea
  • Indigestion
  • A high temperature of 38C or more (fever)
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Tenderness or swelling of the tummy
  • Fast heartbeat (tachycardia).

The NHS states that those with symptoms are often made worse by eating or drinking, especially if those foods are fatty. Leaning forward or curling into a ball may sometimes help to relieve pain whereas lying flat on your back often makes it worse.

Treating acute pancreatitis

When in hospital Wright was prescribed morphine to ease her agony. However she experienced severe side effects – mainly hallucinations, giving impromptu performances for bemused hospital patients and staff.

One of the other most important treatments for patients with the condition is fluids, as they usually become extremely dehydrated. Giving fluids intravenously, especially in the first 24 hours of onset, prevents dehydration and ensures that the rest of the organs of the body get adequate blood flow to support the healing process.

Nutritional support is also given after 48 hours as the inflammation requires a lot of calories in support of the healing process. If individuals find that they cannot eat, then a feeding tube is passed through the nose into the intestines.

A healthy lifestyle can greatly reduce your chances of developing the condition. Eating five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables a day, as well as making sure you do not exceed 14 units of alcohol a week, are two steps to take which can drastically reduce your risk.

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