Is Chronic Pancreatitis?
Chronic pancreatitis is an inflammation of your pancreas that
doesn’t improve over time.
The pancreas is an organ located behind your stomach. It makes
enzymes, which are special proteins that help digest your food. It also makes hormones
that control the level of sugar in your bloodstream.
Pancreatitis occurs when your pancreas becomes inflamed.
Pancreatitis is considered acute when the inflammation only lasts for a short
period of time. It’s considered chronic when it keeps coming back or when the
inflammation doesn’t heal for months or years.
Chronic pancreatitis can lead to permanent scarring and damage. Calcium
stones and cysts may develop in your pancreas, which can block the duct, or
tube, that carries digestive enzymes and juices to your stomach. The blockage
may lower the levels of pancreatic enzymes and hormones, which will make it
harder for your body to digest food and regulate your blood sugar. This can
cause serious health problems, including malnutrition and diabetes.
Causes Chronic Pancreatitis?
There are numerous different causes of chronic pancreatitis. The most
common cause is long-term alcohol abuse. Approximately 70
percent of cases are linked to alcohol consumption.
Autoimmune disease occurs when your body mistakenly attacks your
healthy cells and tissues. Inflammatory bowel syndrome, which is inflammation
of the digestive tract, and primary biliary cirrhosis, which is a chronic liver
disease are associated with chronic pancreatitis.
Other causes include:
- autoimmune disease, which occurs when your body
mistakenly attacks your healthy cells and tissues
- a narrow pancreatic duct, which is the tube that
carries enzymes from the pancreas to the small intestine
- a blockage of the pancreatic duct by either gallstones
or pancreatic stones
fibrosis, which is a hereditary disease that causes mucus to build up in
- a high level of triglyceride fats in your blood,
which is called hypertriglyceridemia
Is at Risk for Getting Chronic Pancreatitis?
Abusing alcohol increases your risk of developing chronic
pancreatitis. Smoking is believed to increase the risk of pancreatitis among
alcoholics. In some cases, a family history of chronic pancreatitis can
increase your risk.
Chronic pancreatitis most frequently develops in people between
the ages of 30 and 40. The condition is also more common among men than women.
Children living in tropical regions of Asia and Africa may be at
risk for developing tropical pancreatitis, which is another type of chronic
pancreatitis. The exact cause of tropical pancreatitis is unknown, but it may
be related to malnutrition.
Are the Symptoms of Chronic Pancreatitis?
At first, you may not notice any symptoms. Changes in your pancreas
can become quite advanced before you begin to feel unwell. When symptoms occur,
they may include:
- pain in your upper abdomen
- fatty stools, which are loose, pale, and don’t
flush away easily
- nausea and vomiting
- unexplained weight loss
- excessive thirst and fatigue
You may experience more severe symptoms as the disease progresses,
- pancreatic fluids in your abdomen
- jaundice, which is characterized by a yellowish
discoloration in your eyes and skin
- internal bleeding
- intestinal blockage
Painful episodes can last for hours or even days. Some people
find that eating or drinking can make their pain worse. As the disease
progresses, the pain may become constant.
Is Chronic Pancreatitis Diagnosed?
During the early stages of chronic pancreatitis, changes in your
pancreas are difficult to see in blood tests. For this reason, blood tests typically
aren’t used to diagnose the disease. However, they may be used to determine the
amount of pancreatic enzymes in your blood. Blood tests may also be used to
check kidney and liver function. Your doctor might ask you for a stool sample
to test for levels of fat. Fatty stools could be a sign that your body isn’t
absorbing nutrients correctly.
Imaging tests are the most reliable way for your doctor to make a
diagnosis. Your doctor might request that the following studies be done on your
abdomen to look for signs of inflammation:
- CT scans
- MRI scans
Your doctor may also recommend an endoscopic ultrasound. During an
endoscopic ultrasound, your doctor inserts a long, flexible tube into your
mouth and down through the stomach and small intestine. The tube contains an
ultrasound probe, which emits sound waves that create detailed images of your
Is Chronic Pancreatitis Treated?
Treatment for chronic pancreatitis focuses on reducing your
pain and improving your digestive function. The damage to your pancreas can’t
be undone, but with the proper care, you should be able to manage most of your
symptoms. Treatment for pancreatitis can include medication, endoscopic
therapies, or surgery.
Possible medications that your doctor may prescribe for chronic
- pain medication
- artificial digestive enzymes if your enzyme levels
are too low to digest food normally
- insulin if you have diabetes
- steroids if you have autoimmune pancreatitis,
which occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your pancreas
Some treatments use an endoscope to reduce pain and get rid of
blockages. An endoscope is a long, flexible tube that your doctor inserts
through your mouth. It allows your doctor to remove pancreatic stones, place
small tubes called stents to improve flow, and close leaks.
Surgery is not necessary for most people. However, if you have
severe pain that isn’t responding to medication, removing part of your pancreas
can sometimes provide relief. Surgery may also be used to unblock your
pancreatic duct or to widen it if it’s too narrow.
It’s important to avoid alcohol after you’ve been diagnosed with chronic
pancreatitis, even if alcohol wasn’t the cause of your illness. You should also
avoid smoking because it can increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
You may need to limit the amount of fat in your diet and take vitamins.
Are the Possible Complications of Chronic Pancreatitis?
Chronic pancreatitis has the potential to cause numerous complications.
You’re at greater risk of developing complications if you continue to drink
alcohol after you’ve been diagnosed.
is one of the most common complications. Since your pancreas isn’t producing
enough digestive enzymes, your body isn’t absorbing nutrients properly. This
can lead to malnutrition.
The development of diabetes is another
possible complication. Pancreatitis damages the cells that produce insulin and
glucagon, which are the hormones that control the amount of sugar in your blood.
This can lead to an increase in blood sugar levels. About 45
percent of people with chronic pancreatitis will get diabetes.
Some people will also develop pseudocysts, which are fluid-filled
growths that can form inside or outside of your pancreas. Pseudocysts are
dangerous because they can block important ducts and blood vessels. They may become
infected in some cases.
The outlook depends on the severity and underlying cause of the disease.
Other factors can affect your chances of recovery, including your age at
diagnosis and whether you continue to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes.
Prompt diagnosis and treatment can improve the outlook. Call your
doctor right away if you notice any symptoms of pancreatitis.