Chronic Pancreatitis – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

What Is Chronic Pancreatitis?

Chronic pancreatitis is a long term a inflammation of your pancreas that doesn’t improve over time.

The pancreas is an organ located behind your stomach. It produces enzymes, that help in digesting your food. It also produces hormones that control the level of glucose in your bloodstream.

Pancreatitis occurs when inflammation occurs in your pancreas . Pancreatitis is called as acute when the inflammation occurs quickly and only lasts for a small period of time. It is considered as chronic when it returns frequently or when the inflammation doesn’t heal for longer period of time.

Chronic pancreatitis can cause permanent scarring and damage. Calcium stones and cysts may develop in your pancreas, which can obstruct the duct, or tube, that transports digestive enzymes and juices to your intestine. The blockage may reduces the amount of pancreatic enzymes and hormones, which will make it difficult for your body to digest food and regulate your blood glucose. This can lead to serious health complications, such as malnutrition and diabetes.

What Causes Chronic Pancreatitis?

There are so many different causes of chronic pancreatitis. The most common cause is long-term alcohol intake. About 70 percent of cases are associated with alcohol consumption.

Autoimmune disorders occurs when your body incorrectly attacks your healthy cells and tissues. Inflammatory bowel syndrome, which is inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, and primary biliary cholangitis, which is a chronic liver disease linked with chronic pancreatitis.

Other causes include:

  • autoimmune disease, which occurs when your body attacks your healthy cells and tissues
  • a narrow pancreatic duct, which is the tube that transports enzymes from the pancreas to the small intestine
  • an obstruction of the pancreatic duct by either gallstones or pancreatic stones
  • cystic fibrosis, which is a hereditary disease that causes mucus deposition in your lungs
  • genetic factors
  • high levels of calcium in bloodstream which is known as hypercalcemia
  • increased level of triglyceride fats in your blood, which is called as hypertriglyceridemia

Who Is at Risk for Getting Chronic Pancreatitis?

Excessive alcohol intake increases your risk of developing chronic pancreatitis. Smoking is also thought to increase the risk of pancreatitis among alcohol abusers. In some cases, a family history of chronic pancreatitis can elevates your risk.

Chronic pancreatitis most frequently develops in people of of 30 to 40 years of age. This complication is also more common among men than women.

Children living in tropical regions of Asia and Africa may be at higher risk for developing tropical pancreatitis, which is another form of chronic pancreatitis. The actual cause of tropical pancreatitis is not clear, but it may be associated with malnutrition.

What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Pancreatitis?

Initially, you may not feel any symptoms. Complications in your pancreas can become quite serious before you begin to feel unwell. When symptoms occur, they may include:

pain in the upper abdomen

diarrhea

fatty stools, which are loose, pale, sticky and difficult to flush

nausea and vomiting

shortness of breath or dyspnea

unidentified weight loss

increased thirst and fatigue

You may have more severe symptoms as the disease got advanced, these symptoms include:

  • pancreatic juices in your abdomen
  • jaundice, which is recognized by a yellowish discoloration in the sclera of your eyes and skin
  • internal bleeding
  • intestinal blockage or obstruction

Painful episodes can last for hours or even days. Some people find that eating or drinking can worsen their pain. With the progression of the disease, the pain may become constant.

How Is Chronic Pancreatitis Diagnosed?

In the early stages of chronic pancreatitis, changes in your pancreas are harder to see in blood tests. For this reason, blood tests usually are not done to diagnose the disease. Although, they may be used to find out the amount of pancreatic enzymes in your blood. Blood tests may also performed to check blood cell counts along with kidney and liver function. Your doctor might suggest you for a stool sample to check for the levels of fat. Fatty stools(steatorrhea) could be a sign that your body is not absorbing nutrients properly.

Imaging tests are the most secure way for your doctor to make a diagnosis. Your doctor might suggest that the following studies can be done on your abdomen to view the signs of inflammation:

  • X-rays
  • ultrasounds
  • Computed Tomography or CT scans
  • MRI scans

Your doctor may also suggest an endoscopic ultrasound. During an endoscopic ultrasound, your doctor inserts a long, flexible tube into your small intestine through mouth and down through the stomach. The tube contains an ultrasound probe, which releases sound waves that makes complete images of your pancreas.

How Is Chronic Pancreatitis Treated?

Treatment for chronic pancreatitis aims on lowering your pain and improving your digestive function. The damage to your pancreas can’t be defeated, but with the proper care, you should be able to control many of your symptoms. Treatment for pancreatitis can include medication, endoscopic therapies, or surgery in severe cases.

Medications

Possible medications that your doctor may recommend for chronic pancreatitis are:

  • pain killers
  • artificial digestive enzymes if your enzyme levels are very low to properly digest food
  • insulin if you have diabetes
  • steroids if you have autoimmune pancreatitis, which occurs when your own immune system attacks and damages your pancreas.

Endoscopy

Some treatments use an endoscope to lower the pain and removal of blockages. An endoscope is a thin, long, flexible tube that your doctor inserts through your mouth. It helps your doctor to remove pancreatic stones, place small wired tubes called as stents to increase flow, and to stop leakage.

Surgery

Surgery is not essential for most of the people. Although, if you have severe pain that is not cured by medication, removing part of your pancreas can sometimes gives relief. Surgery may also be used to open your pancreatic duct, drain cysts, or to widen it if it is very narrow.

It’s important to avoid alcohol after you’ve been diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis, even if alcohol intake wasn’t the reason behind your condition. You should also quit smoking because it can increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer. It is also required to reduce the amount of fat in your diet and take vitamins rich foods.

What Are the Possible Complications of Chronic Pancreatitis?

Chronic pancreatitis has the possibility to cause several complications. You are at larger risk of developing more complications if you are not quitting alcohol intake after you’ve been diagnosed.

Nutrient malabsorption is one of the major complications. Since your pancreas isn’t producing sufficient digestive enzymes, your body is not able to absorb nutrients completely. This can result in malnutrition.

The occurance of diabetes is another possible complication. pancreatitis damages the beta cells of pancreas that produce insulin and glucagon, which are the hormones that regulate the level of glucose in your bloodstream. This can cause an increase in blood glucose levels. Approximately, 45 percent of people with chronic pancreatitis will develop diabetes.

Some people will also develop pseudocysts, which are fluid-filled sacs that can develop inside or outside of your pancreas. Pseudocysts are dangerous because they can obstruct major ducts and blood vessels. They may got infected in some cases.

There are other factors that can affect your chances of recovery, such as your age at diagnosis and whether you quitting alcohol intake and smoking.

Rapid diagnosis and treatment can improve the aspect. Visit your doctor right away if you feel any symptoms of pancreatitis.

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