The pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach that produces digestive enzymes and the hormones insulin and glucagon, which help maintain normal sugar levels in the blood and intestinal function respectively. Inflammation of the pancreas leads to a condition called pancreatitis. Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic. Chronic pancreatitis is a condition where the inflammation of the pancreas does not heal or improve with time, and leads to permanent damage. The most common symptoms include abdominal pain, continuous weight loss (even with a normal diet), diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, pale or clay-coloured stools, and fatty or oily stools.
The most common cause of chronic pancreatitis is alcohol abuse for many years and repeated occurrence of acute pancreatitis (milder form of pancreatitis). Other causes may include genetic factors, autoimmune problems, and blockage of the pancreatic duct or the common bile duct which drains digestive enzymes from the pancreas into the intestine, other conditions like cystic fibrosis, and certain medications such as oestrogens, corticosteroids and diuretics. The condition is seen more often in men than in women.
Chronic pancreatitis is diagnosed by various laboratory tests that measure the levels of pancreatic enzyme, and imaging techniques such as CT scan, ultrasound, endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) and magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP), which indicate inflammation of the pancreas.
Treatment of chronic pancreatitis is directed towards reducing the inflammation and treating the underlying cause of the condition. You will be required to stay in the hospital where you will be given pain medication and intravenous fluids, and closely monitored for recovery from your symptoms. Your doctor will stop food and fluid through the mouth to limit the activity of the pancreas. Pancreatic enzymes may be prescribed to digest food better and gain weight. Blood sugar (glucose) levels are controlled by taking insulin. If a blockage is found, the obstruction is surgically removed, while in severe cases, a part or the entire pancreas is removed.