Chronic pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas that does not heal or improve, gets worse over time, and leads to permanent damage.
The pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach that produces chemicals (called enzymes) needed to digest food. It also produces the hormones insulin and glucagon.
When inflammation and scarring of the pancreas occur, the organ is no longer able to make the right amount of these enzymes. As a result, your body may be unable to digest fat and key elements of food.
Damage to the parts of the pancreas that make insulin may lead to diabetes.
The condition is most often caused by alcohol abuse over many years. Repeated episodes of acute pancreatitis can lead to chronic pancreatitis. Genetics may be a factor in some cases. Sometimes, the cause is not known.
Other conditions that have been linked to chronic pancreatitis:
Chronic pancreatitis occurs more often in men than in women. The condition often develops in people ages 30 - 40.
You may need an exploratory laparotomy may be done to confirm the diagnosis. This is more often done for acute pancreatitis.
Tests for pancreatitis include:
Inflammation or calcium deposits of the pancreas, or changes to the ducts of the pancreas may be seen on:
An exploratory laparotomy may be done to confirm the diagnosis, but this is usually done for acute pancreatitis.
People with severe pain or who are losing weight may need to stay in the hospital for:
The right diet is important for people with chronic pancreatitis to keep a healthy weight and get the correct nutrients. A nutritionist can help you create a diet that includes:
The doctor may prescribe pancreatic enzymes. You must take these medicines with every meal. The enzymes will help you digest food better and gain weight.
Avoid smoking and drinking alcoholic beverages, even if your pancreatitis is mild.
Other treatments may involve:
Surgery may be recommended if a blockage is found. In severe cases, part or all of the pancreas may be removed.
This is a serious disease that may lead to disability and death. You can reduce the risk by avoiding alcohol.
Complications may include:
Call your health care provider if:
Determining the cause of acute pancreatitis and treating it quickly may help prevent chronic pancreatitis. Limiting the amount of alcohol you drink can reduce your risk of getting this condition.
Forsmark CE. Pancreatitis. In: Goldman L, Shafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 46.
Updated by: Todd Eisner, MD, Private practice specializing in Gastroenterology, Boca Raton, FL. Affiliate Assistant Professor, Florida Atlantic University School of Medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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