Chronic pancreatitis is a medical condition in which the pancreas is persistently inflamed over a long period.
The pancreas is a soft, elongated gland situated at the back of the upper abdominal cavity, behind the stomach. This organ produces chemicals needed to digest food (digestive enzymes), along with the hormone insulin and glucagon.
The abdominal pain in chronic pancreatitis has its own set of typical symptoms. Here we list a few main characteristics of abdominal pain in this condition:
Greatest in the upper abdomen
May last from hours to days
Eventually may be continuous
May worsen with eating or drinking
May worsen with alcohol consumption
May radiate to the back
Other symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include:
Nausea and vomiting
Vomiting after meals
Poor pancreatic function
Unintentional weight loss
Pale or clay-colored stools
Long-term excessive alcohol consumption is the most common cause of chronic pancreatitis. In fact, the risk of developing chronic pancreatitis is directly associated to the amount of alcohol consumed.
Other main causes of chronic pancreatitis include:
High levels of calcium in the blood
Abnormalities in anatomy present at birth
Blocked or narrowed pancreatic duct due to trauma or pseudocysts
Systemic disease, such as cystic fibrosis
High blood fats or Hypertriglyceridaemia
Side effects of drugs
No specific cause known (idiopathic pancreatitis)
A series of tests are carried out to confirm the presence of chronic pancreatitis. Here we briefly list each one of them:
Blood Tests: These can confirm the presence of digestive enzymes that have leaked out of the pancreas into the bloodstream when the pancreas in inflamed. The two most common tests are the serum amylase test and the serum lipase test.
Stool test: These tests detect steatorrhea, which are the abnormal levels of fat in a stool sample.
Imaging tests: These provide information regarding the structure of pancreas, the ducts that drain the pancreas and gallbladder and the surrounding tissues. The main tests are:
Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)
Pancreatic function tests
Secretion stimulation test
Tests for pancreatic cancer are also carried out in this health condition.
Treatment of chronic pancreatitis is aimed at relieving pain accompanied with more severe measures in the later stages of treatment. The main treatment options include:
Insulin to control blood sugar levels
Pancreatic enzyme supplements
Injections for nerve block
Treatments to widen pancreatic ducts