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Chronic Pancreatitis


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chronic pancreatitis

What is chronic pancreatitis?
Chronic pancreatitis can cause abdominal pain, poor digestion, diabetes and other complications. Alcohol is the common cause. Treatment includes painkillers, other medication and, most importantly, stopping alcohol drinking for good. Surgery is sometimes needed. About 1 person in 100,000 develops chronic pancreatitis each year in the UK.

What are the causes of chronic pancreatitis?
Alcohol is the usual cause (about 8 in 10 cases).
Men aged 40-50 are the commonest group of people affected. Alcohol related chronic pancreatitis
usually follows a typical pattern.
There is often a first bout of acute pancreatitis with severe abdominal pain and vomiting. This may
settle but if drinking continues the pancreas becomes more and more damaged and chronic (ongoing)
pain and other symptoms then develop.
Other causes are uncommon. They include abnormalities of the pancreas such as narrowing of the
pancreatic duct (due to various reasons) and rare hereditary causes.
Malnutrition and eating large amounts of cassava may be a cause in some tropical countries.

What happens in chronic pancreatitis?
A persistent inflammation develops in the pancreas. Over time the inflammation causes scarring and damage to parts of the pancreas. Not enough enzymes and insulin may be made if there is a lot of damage and scarring. A lack of enzymes causes poor digestion of food (malabsorption). A lack of insulin causes diabetes.

What are the symptoms of chronic pancreatitis?
Abdominal pain just below the ribs is usual. Poor digestion occurs if not enough enzymes are made by the damaged pancreas Steatorrhoea – Pale, smelly loose stools that are difficult to flush away Diabetes occurs in about 1 in 3 cases.

How is chronic pancreatitis diagnosed?
Diagnosing chronic pancreatitis in its early stages is often difficult. There is no easy test to detect early damage to the pancreas. Many pancreatic cells can be damaged before abnormalities show up on tests, x-rays or scans. There are a number of causes of abdominal pain which may be confused with chronic pancreatitis

What is the treatment for chronic pancreatitis?
Stop drinking alcohol for good. This is the most essential part of treatment. Painkillers are usually needed to ease the pain. Enzyme replacement medication may be needed if the low level of enzymes causes poor digestion of food and steatorrhoea. Restricting fat in the diet may be advised if steatorrhoea is bad. If diabetes develops then medication or insulin injections will be needed to control the blood sugar levels. Do not smoke to minimise the risk of pancreatic cancer developing.

Most people with chronic pancreatitis rarely need surgery. The common reason for surgery is for persistent bad pain that is not helped by painkillers or other methods. Surgery may also be needed if a complication develops.

What is the outlook?
If alcohol is the cause of chronic pancreatitis then other alcohol related illnesses commonly also develop. If alcohol drinking continues and pancreatitis becomes severe than life expectancy is typically reduced by 10-20 years.
The outlook for other less common causes of chronic pancreatitis depends on the cause and severity of the condition.

Further help and information

Pancreatitis Supporters Network, P O Box 8938, Birmingham, B13 9FU
Tel: 0121 449 0667   Web:
Provides information and support for people with pancreatitis.


CRE552 Date of preparation May 2010

Supported by an educational grant from Abbott.