Chronic Pancreatitis
En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition
The pancreas is a long, flat, pear-shaped organ located behind the stomach. It makes digestive enzymes and hormones, including insulin. Chronic pancreatitis is a progressive inflammation of the pancreas marked by frequent acute attacks and risk of permanent organ damage.

Pancreatitis

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Causes
Chronic pancreatitis results from prolonged injury, toxic exposure, autoimmune disease, or obstruction of the pancreas.

Risk Factors
Chronic pancreatitis is more common in men. Other factors that may increase your risk of chronic pancreatitis include:

Personal health history, such as:

Conditions that obstruct the passageway from the pancreas to the small intestine include:

  • Trauma
  • Tumors
  • Pseudocysts—build up of fluids and debris
Chronic pancreatitis is a risk factor for developing pancreatic cancer .

Symptoms
Symptoms may be mild, but progressive. Chronic pancreatitis may cause:

  • Abdominal pain that may get worse when eating or drinking, spreads to the back, or becomes constant and disabling
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
Diagnosis
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The diagnosis of chronic pancreatitis is difficult. Symptoms are not specific early on in the course of the disease.

Your bodily fluids and waste products may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Stool tests
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

Treatment
The goals of treatment for chronic pancreatitis are to relieve pain and manage nutritional and metabolic problems.

Treatment may be started in a hospital until you are stabilized. Stabilization can be done with:

  • IV fluids
  • Nasogastric tube—A long, thin tube is threaded through your nose and into your stomach for feeding
Medications
Your doctor may recommend:

  • Prescription pain relievers
  • Pancreatic enzymes
  • Vitamin supplements
  • Medications to control diabetes if it develops
Lifestyle Changes
You will be advised to stop drinking alcohol. This may require counseling or a rehabilitation program. Stopping your alcohol intake is the most important intervention in your treatment.

If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how you can successfully quit .

You may be advised to restrict the amount of fat in your diet. Pancreatic damage interferes with the body's ability to process fats. A registered dietitian can work with you and create a healthy meal plan.

Surgery
Surgery may be needed in severe cases:

  • Necrosectomy—Removal of dying or dead (necrotic) pancreatic tissue. Pancreatic necrosis is more serious if an infection is present. This procedure can also be done with endoscopy.
  • ECRP—To open any collapsed ducts or drain cysts.
  • Cholecystectomy —To remove the gallbladder.
Prevention
Aside from avoiding too much alcohol, there are no current guidelines to prevent chronic pancreatitis.




RESOURCES:
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

National Pancreas Foundation

CANADIAN RESOURCES:
Canadian Association of Gastroenterology


References:
Chronic pancreatitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 17, 2014. Accessed December 9, 2014.

Chronic pancreatitis. Tulane University School of Medicine website. Available at: http://tulane.edu/som/pancreas-biliary/diseases/chronic-pancreatitis.cfm. Accessed December 9, 2014.

Grant JP. Nutritional support in acute and chronic pancreatitis. Surg Clin North Am. 2011;91(4):805-820, viii.

Pancreatitis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/pancreatitis. Updated August 16, 2012. Accessed December 9, 2014.

Singh VV, Toskes PP. Medical therapy for chronic pancreatitis pain. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2003; 5:110.

Last Reviewed December 2014



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