Chronic pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas that does not heal or improve—it gets worse over time and leads to permanent damage. Chronic pancreatitis eventually impairs a patient’s ability to digest food and make pancreatic hormones.
Common signs and symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include severe upper abdominal pain that can sometimes travel along the back and is more intense following a meal, as well as nausea and vomiting, more commonly occurring during episodes of pain.
As the condition progresses, the episodes of pain become more frequent and severe. Some individuals will experience constant abdominal pain.
As chronic pancreatitis progresses, and the ability of the pancreas to produce digestive juices deteriorates, the following symptoms may appear:
- smelly, greasy stools
- abdominal cramps
Eventually, the pancreas may not be able to produce insulin at all, leading to type 1 diabetes, which can produce the following symptoms:
- frequent urination
- intense hunger
- unintentional weight loss
- blurred vision
Whereas there are causes of chronic pancreatitis that are unknown; several factors have been identified to cause chronic pancreatitis:
- Heavy alcohol use
- Autoimmune conditions (when the body’s immune system attacks its own body)
- Genetic mutations due to cystic fibrosis
- Blocked pancreatic duct or common bile duct
- Familial pancreatitis (runs in the family—with 2 or more immediate family members with a history of pancreatitis)
Since there are no specific tests done to diagnose chronic pancreatitis but below are some of the common tests done to detect swelling and inflammation in the pancreas.
- CT scan
- Ultrasound scan
- A CT scan
- Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography scan (MRCP)
- Endoscopic ultrasound
Treatment of chronic pancreatitis
- Avoid alcohol consumption
- Stop eating tobacco
- Avoid smoking cigarettes
- Dietary changes: consumption of low-fat meals
- Take vitamins and enzymes
- Pain management: Anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve pain
Early diagnosis and treatment are important to ease a person’s life and the right treatment can help save or slow the damage done to the pancreas.