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Chronic Pancreatitis Information, Facts

The pancreatic gland lies behind the stomach and produces digestive enzymes glucagon and insulin. Prolonged disorders and ailments such as thyroid problems, high cholesterol levels, and hyperlipidemia cause the pancreas to swell. Chronic pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas. 

A person is diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis when he has been suffering from this disorder for an extended period of time with persistent abdominal pain and vomiting. This is due to digestive disorders and erratic bowel movement as the body is unable to absorb fats in the diet. This will further lead to fatigue, weight loss, and diabetes.

Injury to the gland, long-term alcohol abuse, infections, tumors, trauma, gallstones that clog the bile or pancreatic duct, and genetic disorders are the causes of chronic pancreatitis. Diagnosis involves a physical exam, blood and urine tests to determine amylase and lipase content, sonography, endoscopy, and pancreatoscopy to identify early chronic pancreatitis, CT scans and MRIs to detect the presence of gall stones and other digestive disorders, and a study of the patient’s genetic history.

Chronic Pancreatitis Prognosis, Life Expectancy

Infection of pancreas could result in cysts that could later rupture and bleed. Chronic pancreatitis could lead to type II diabetes and collapse of the lungs, heart, and kidney. If left untreated, this disorder could result in disability and even death. Cigarettes and alcohol increase the mortality rate by 60% to 80%, where one’s life expectancy is reduced by 10 to 15 years.
Chronic pancreatitis infection could lead to further complications such as the following:    
  • Diabetes mellitus caused by fluctuating sugar levels due to insufficient/ insulin
  • Pancreatic disorder due to enzyme deficiency and digestive disorders
  • Pancreatic tumor and cancer
Some of the risk factors for chronic pancreatitis are as follows:
  • Excess alcohol and smoking
  • Block in bile or pancreatic duct
  • Genetic disorders leading to autoimmunity
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • High fat content in blood

Chronic Pancreatitis Symptoms

Injury or infection of the pancreas leads to inflammation and malfunctioning of the gland. Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis vary from person to person. Chronic pancreatitis are constant, and acute abdominal pain spreads to the back and is often more severe at night. It is seen to occur after food intake, and the patient might find temporary reprieve by leaning forward. Other symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include:
  • Tender and bloated abdomen
  • Acute abdominal pain, especially in the upper portion of the abdomen just below the ribs
  • Continuous pain radiating to the back, which could increase after consumption of food or fluids
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever and sweating
  • Palpitations
  • Digestive disorders
  • Inability of the system to digest certain vitamins and fats
  • Frequent and loose bowel movement
  • Presence of fats in stool
  • Involuntary loss of weight
  • Diabetes

Early Chronic Pancreatitis Symptoms

Abdominal pain that starts from the front left and travels to the back, usually lasting for two days. The pain can occur suddenly or increase in intensity gradually. The pain is further aggravated by food or fluid intake. The patient experiences nausea and/or vomiting. The pain eases when he/she crouches forward. A soft and distended (or bloated) abdomen is accompanied by fever, chills, increased heart beat, headaches, mood swings, immense fatigue and loss of weight. Mild chronic pancreatitis signs are similar to those of early pancreatic symptoms. Since the affected pancreas is not able to produce digestive enzymes or insulin, the food ingested does not get digested properly, resulting in smelly fatty stools and weight loss.

Chronic Pancreatitis Treatment

A chronic pancreatitis treatment plan includes the following:
  • Easing abdominal pain
  • Identifying and dealing with the cause of the condition
  • Putting the patient on a nutritious diet regimen
  • Helping the patient cope with the disorder and lead a normal life
Chronic Pancreatitis Treatment Guidelines:
  • Medications to alleviate abdominal pain
  • IV fluids and/or fluids through a tube in the nose for a day or two
  • Light oral diet and plenty of fluids
  • Calcium and vitamins supplement
  • Avoidance of caffeine, fatty food, alcohol, and smoking
  • Insulin to maintain blood sugar
  • Blood work for triglycerides
  • Chest X-ray and a CT scan
  • Endoscopic ultrasound to identify pancreatic inflammations, lesions, and cysts
  • Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy to remove obstructions or stones in the pancreatic duct
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangio-pancreatography
  • Surgery in some serious cases

Chronic Pancreatitis Natural Treatment Options and Remedies:

  • Pancreatitis diet should be bland diet, with vitamins and fluids
  • Avoidance of sugar, processed, fried and grilled foods
  • Enzyme and anti-inflammatory supplements for digestion
  • Avoidance of alcohol and smoking
  • Adoption of a healthy lifestyle

Chronic Pancreatitis Causes

Gallstones in the pancreatic duct (prevalent among women above the age of 50), and long-term alcohol abuse (for more than seven years) are the major causes of chronic pancreatitis. During digestion, pancreatic enzymes are secreted by into the stomach and intestines. However, the enzymes react within the pancreas resulting in internal damage to the organ, leading to chronic pancreatitis. Other factors include the following:

  • Smoking
  • Injury to the organ or abdomen
  • Infections causing distended and malfunctioning pancreas
  • High fat and calcium content in blood
  • Intolerance to medications or chemicals
  • Medical history
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Medical and surgical procedures
  • An injured or malfunctioning pancreatic gland causes complications like digestive disorders and diabetes.

Chronic Pancreatitis Causes in Children:

Hereditary and congenital pancreatitis and cystic fibrosis are the two main causes of chronic pancreatitis in children. Other contributing factors include:

  • Block in the pancreatic duct, preventing secretion of digestive enzymes into the stomach
  • Digestive enzymes are secreted in the pancreas, thereby damaging it
  • Presence of cysts in or near the pancreas
  • Injury to pancreas or abdomen due to accidents
  • Formation of pseudo cysts

Chronic Pancreatitis Causes in Adults:

Prolonged alcohol abuse causes chronic pancreatitis in 70% of adults. Clogged or damaged pancreatic ducts, genetic disorders, injury to pancreas or abdomen as in an accident, and in rare cases, unknown causes lead chronic pancreatitis.
So, what causes of chronic pancreatitis? In sum, any of the following could lead to chronic pancreatitis:

  • Alcoholism
  • Cysts and lesions in the pancreas
  • Injury to the pancreas
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Heredity factors
  • Pancreatic surgery
  • Autoimmunity problems
  • Poor diet and lifestyle

As part of chronic pancreatic medication, information on a variety of drugs is available on the internet. However, it is advisable that you consult a doctor with regards to the same.

Submitted on January 16, 2014