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Chronic pancreatitis

  • Definition

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


    Causes, incidence, and 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.