Chronic pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas which is a large gland that is located behind the stomach. The pancreas release digestive juices into the small intestine which may help in the digestion of food and also secretes enzymes which help in regulating the glucose levels in the body. Chronic pancreatitis usually begins in adults above the age of 40 to 50 years.
Chronic pancreatitis is a permanent inflammation of the pancreas which develops gradually over years and lasts for a longer duration. This condition is mainly caused by heavy alcohol consumption. It can be treated with intravenous fluids and by avoiding the intake of alcohol. This condition is common among men when compared to women. Men are more affected with chronic pancreatitis than women.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
The signs and symptoms of chronic pancreatitis are:
- Pain in the upper abdomen
- Loose, pale stools
- Loss of weight
- Excessive thirst
The symptoms may become severe as the disease progress.
- Internal bleeding
- Intestinal blockage
- Yellowish discoloration in the eyes and skin
- Reduced bowel sounds
- Increased heart rate
- Abdominal tenderness
As the disease progresses, the pain becomes constant and people may experience more pain while eating or drinking.
There are different causes of chronic pancreatitis. They are:
- Excess consumption of alcohol
- Autoimmune diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease may cause chronic pancreatitis
- Genetic mutations due to cystic fibrosis
- Gall stones present in the bile duct
- A family history of pancreatitis
Anyone can develop chronic pancreatitis but there are an increased risk people:
- Males are at a greater risk of developing pancreatitis when compared to females.
- Chronic pancreatitis starts between the ages of 30 and 40 and is rare in children.
- A family history inheritance of genes which result in conditions such as cystic fibrosis result in pancreatitis.
- Excess consumption of alcohol and tobacco abuse is the primary cause for the development of chronic pancreatitis.
- Blockage of pancreatic duct which occurs due to auto accidents or trauma may lead to blockage of pancreatic duct also known as distal pancreatitis.
- Other health conditions such as high triglycerides and lupus also cause chronic pancreatitis.
Chronic pancreatitis may cause serious complications such as infection, pseudocyst, diabetes, malnutrition, abscess formation, and organ failure. If the fluid levels drop suddenly, it results in hypovolemic shock which is a medical emergency. In few cases, chronic pancreatitis may also lead to pancreatic cancer.
The tests involved to diagnose chronic pancreatitis are:
- Physical examination is the first thing the doctor performs. The doctor may also ask for the complete medical history of the patient.
- Pancreatic function test is performed to check the functioning of the organ and to determine the amount of digestive enzymes.
- Glucose tolerance test is performed to measure the amount of insulin produced. This helps in determining the number of cells damaged in the organ.
- Imaging tests such as computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or ultrasound to detect the presence of gallstones and inflammation of the pancreas; abdominal ultrasound is the most reliable test to confirm the diagnosis.
- Blood test is performed to check the levels of white blood cells as an increase in the level of white blood cells may indicate the presence of infection.
- Stool test is performed to identify the fat content present in fecal matter.
- Biopsy- A small tissue sample is taken from the affected part of the organ with the help of an instrument and is examined under the microscope.
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiography (ERCP) is a procedure that is performed to check for the presence of tumors and stones. It helps in diagnosing chronic pancreatitis.
It may be difficult to treat chronic pancreatitis; however doctors may recommend a change in the diet and may prescribe a few medicines to relive pain. Patients suffering from chronic pancreatitis may be supplemented with pancreatitic enzymes and insulin. A diet low in fat should be followed.
In some cases when the patient suffers from severe abdominal pain, cramps, blockage of the pancreatic duct etc the doctor may recommend a surgery to treat the condition.
Patients should stop tobacco smoking and consuming alcohol to prevent attacks of the pancreatitis. It is advised to follow the medications prescribed by the doctor.
The preventive measures are as follows:
- Consuming low-fat food
- Eating small meals to minimize burden on digestive system
- Avoid consuming alcohol
- Quit smoking
- Exercise regularly