Chronic pancreatitis : Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Definition

Chronic pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas that does not heal or improve, gets worse over time, and leads to permanent damage.

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

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 other important parts of food.

Damage to the portions of the pancreas that make insulin may lead to diabetes.

The condition is most often caused by alcohol abuse over many years. Repeat 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)
  • Hyperparathyroidism
  • Use of certain medicationss (especially estrogens, corticosteroids, thiazide diuretics, and azathioprine)

Chronic pancreatitis occurs more often in men than in women. The condition often develops in people ages 30 – 40.

Pictures & Images

Digestive system

The esophagus, stomach, large and small intestine, aided by the liver, gallbladder and pancreas convert the nutritive components of food into energy and break down the non-nutritive components into waste to be excreted.

Pancreatitis, chronic – CT scan

Pancreatitis, chronic - CT scan

CT scan of the upper abdomen showing multiple white-colored calcifications. These occur in chronic pancreatitis.


Review Date : 1/20/2010
Reviewed By : George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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