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Chronic Pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas that does not heal or improve, gets worse over time, and leads to permanent damage.

Causes

  • 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:
  • Autoimmune problems (when the immune system attacks the body)
  • Blockage of the pancreatic duct or the common bile duct, the tubes that drain enzymes from the pancreas
  • Complications of cystic fibrosis
  • High levels of a fat, called triglycerides, in the blood (hypertriglyceridemia)
  • Hyperparathyroidism
  • Use of certain medications (especially sulfonamides, thiazides, and azathioprine)
  • Chronic pancreatitis occurs more often in men than in women. The condition often develops in people ages 30 - 40.

Symptoms

Abdominal pain:

  • Greatest in the upper abdomen
  • May last from hours to days
  • Eventually may be continuous
  • May get worse from eating or drinking
  • May get worse from drinking alcohol
  • May also be felt in the back

Digestive problems:

  • Chronic weight loss, even when eating habits and amounts are normal
  • Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
  • Fatty or oily stools
  • Pale or clay-colored stools