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Definition Return to top
Chronic pancreatitis is swelling (inflammation) of the pancreas that leads to scarring and loss of function. The pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach that produces chemicals needed to digest food. It also produces the hormones insulin and glucagon.
Causes Return to top
Chronic pancreatitis causes inflammation and scarring of tissue in the pancreas. This makes the pancreas unable to produce the right amount of chemicals (enzymes) needed to digest fat. It also interferes with insulin production, which may lead to diabetes.
The condition is most often caused by alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Sometimes the cause cannot be determined, however. Genetic causes have become more common. Other conditions have also been linked to chronic pancreatitis, such as:
Chronic pancreatitis occurs more frequently in men than in women. This may be because alcohol-use disorders are more common in men.
Symptoms Return to top
The symptoms may become more frequent as the condition gets worse. The symptoms may mimic pancreatic cancer. Sitting up and leaning forward may sometimes relieve the abdominal pain of pancreatitis.
Exams and Tests Return to top
Tests for pancreatitis include:
Inflammation or calcium deposits of the pancreas may be seen on:
An exploratory laparotomy may be done to confirm the diagnosis of pancreatitis.
Treatment Return to top
The goal of treatment is to:
Treatment may involve:
Do not drink alcohol.
Surgery may be recommended if a blockage is found. In severe cases, part or all of the pancreas may be removed.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
This is a serious disease that may lead to disability and death. You can reduce the risk by avoiding alcohol.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:
Prevention Return to top
Determining the cause of acute pancreatitis and treating it promptly may help to prevent chronic pancreatitis. Avoiding heavy consumption of alcohol dramatically reduces the risk of developing this condition.
References Return to top
Nair RJ, Lawler L, Miller MR. Chronic pancreatitis. Am Fam Physician. 2007;76:1679-1688.Update Date: 5/27/2008 Updated by: Christian Stone, MD, Division of Gastroenterology, Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.