Chronic pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas that does not heal or improve, gets worse over time, and leads to permanent damage.
- 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)
- 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.
- 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
- Chronic weight loss, even when eating habits and amounts are normal
- Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
- Fatty or oily stools
- Pale or clay-colored stools