What is chronic pancreatitis?
Chronic pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed and does not heal over time. In fact, the inflammation worsens to the point where it can cause permanent damage. Over time, it impedes the pancreas’s ability to produce hormones and digest food.
What are the symptoms of chronic pancreatitis?
The most common symptom of this condition is pain in the upper abdomen, which can then spread to the back. It may also worsen after eating or drinking. However, some affected individuals do not experience this pain. Other symptoms include oily/fatty stool, nausea, vomiting, discolored stool, diarrhea, and unintentional weight loss. Because the body cannot properly digest food, most chronic pancreatitis patients also experience malnutrition.
What causes chronic pancreatitis?
Medical professionals are unsure as to what exactly causes chronic pancreatitis. However, they have identified a number of risk factors. These include autoimmune conditions, a family history of pancreatitis, heavy alcohol use, blocked pancreatic or common bile ducts, and genetic mutations related to cystic fibrosis.
How is chronic pancreatitis diagnosed?
Doctors will begin with a physical exam and evaluate a patient’s medical history. This is followed by tests, including X-rays, endoscopic ultrasounds, transabdominal ultrasounds, CT scans, and magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP).
What are the treatments for chronic pancreatitis?
One of the major goals of treatment is pain management, as the pain associated with chronic pancreatitis can be debilitating. Doctors will begin with non-opioid pain medication (ex: ibuprofen), and if the pain is still too much, they will move to mild opioids like codeine. In very severe cases, doctors will prescribe stronger opioids, such as morphine. A celiac plexus block and a stent into the pancreatic duct may also work to relieve pain.
Treatment options for chronic pancreatitis include:
- Surgery (lateral pancreaticojejunostomy)
- Total pancreatectomy with islet auto-transplantation (TPIAT)
- Whipple procedure
- Antioxidant therapy
- Bilateral thoracoscopic splanchnicectomy