What Is It?
Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, the large gland located behind the stomach and next to the gallbladder. Chronic pancreatitis is long-term (chronic) inflammation of the pancreas that leads to permanent damage.
The main functions of the pancreas are to produce digestive enzymes and hormones, such as insulin and glucagon that regulate blood sugar levels. Damage to the pancreas can cause problems with digestion, absorption of nutrients, and production of insulin. As a result, people with chronic pancreatitis can lose weight, experience diarrhea, and develop diabetes or vitamin deficiencies.
It usually takes several years for permanent changes and symptoms to occur. More than 80 percent of cases of chronic pancreatitis are caused by long-standing or severe alcohol abuse. Since only 5 percent to 10 percent of alcoholics develop chronic pancreatitis, there probably are other factors that influence whether someone develops chronic pancreatitis. It is generally thought that people who continue to drink after one or more bouts of alcohol-related acute pancreatitis are more likely to develop chronic pancreatitis. In some uncommon cases, a single severe episode of acute pancreatitis can cause enough damage that the disease becomes chronic.
In 10 percent to 20 percent of cases, chronic pancreatitis develops in people who do not abuse alcohol. These cases may be caused by:
Heredity - Hereditary chronic pancreatitis is a rare genetic disorder that predisposes a person to develop the disease, usually before age 20.
Blockage of the duct that drains digestive enzymes from the pancreas - If the enzymes don't drain properly, they can back up and damage the pancreas. Blockage can be caused by gallstones, scarring from prior surgery, tumors, or abnormalities of the pancreas or of the shape or location of the pancreatic duct. If the blockage is found early, surgery or a procedure called endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) to relieve the blockage may help to prevent damage to the pancreas.
Other medical problems, including cystic fibrosis