Chronic Pancreatitis
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Chronic Pancreatitis

En Español (Spanish Version)


The pancreas, a six-inch long organ below the stomach, makes juices and hormones that aid in digestion and balance the body’s sugar content. Pancreatic juices are called enzymes and include insulin, which controls the amount of sugar in the blood.

Chronic pancreatitis occurs when the organ’s digestive enzymes attack and destroy the pancreas and nearby tissues, resulting in scarring and pain.


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Chronic pancreatitis results from prolonged injury to the pancreas, usually caused by prolonged alcohol abuse. Other causes include:

  • Trauma
  • Pseudocysts (accumulation of fluids and debris)
  • Heredity
  • Congenital conditions (eg, pancreas divisum)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Hypercalcemia (high blood levels of calcium)
  • Hyperlipidemia or hypertriglyceridemia (high levels of blood fats)
  • Medications
  • Autoimmune conditions

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.

Factors that may increase your risk of chronic pancreatitis include:

  • Gender: male
  • Age: late teens to mid-twenties (for alcohol-induced)
  • Age: over 50 (for cases of no known cause)
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Smoking
  • Family history of hyperparathyroidism associated with chronic pancreatitis


Symptoms associated with chronic pancreatitis include:

  • Abdominal pain that may get worse when eating or drinking, spread to the back, or become constant and disabling
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Fatty stools


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Other tests may include:

  • Ultrasound—a test that uses sound waves to examine the body
  • Abdominal X-ray—a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the body
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)—the combined use of x-ray and endoscopy used to examine the pancreas
  • CT Scan—a type of x-ray that uses the computer to make pictures of structures inside the body
  • MRI scan—a test that uses magnetic fields to make computerized pictures of the brain (No radiation is delivered with an MRI.)
  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Stool tests


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:


Pain associated with chronic pancreatitis can be controlled with medications (eg, tramadol). If the pancreas does not secrete enough enzymes, your doctor may prescribe pancreatic enzymes that you will take with meals. In addition, insulin or other medications may be needed to control blood glucose.


Your doctor may advise you to stop drinking alcohol and make changes in the food you eat (eg, restrict the amount of fat in your diet).


If your pain is severe, surgery to drain an enlarged pancreatic duct or remove part of the pancreas may be necessary.


Take the following steps to prevent chronic pancreatitis:

  • Diagnose and treat cases of acute pancreatitis as early as possible.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol use.


National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

National Pancreas Foundation


Canada Health Portal

Canadian Society of Intestinal Research


Chronic pancreatitis. DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed July 5, 2007.

Pancreatitis. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse website. Available at: Accessed July 5, 2007.

Last reviewed May 2008 by Daus Mahnke, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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