Digestive System Home > Chronic Pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis is a condition that causes scarring and pain in the pancreas and nearby tissues. The main causes of this disorder include alcoholism, a blocked or narrowed pancreatic duct, and heredity. In addition to asking about a person's medical history and doing a physical exam, a healthcare provider will use certain tests to help make a diagnosis. Relieving pain is the first step for treating this condition, followed by a diet high in carbohydrates and low in fat.

What Is Chronic Pancreatitis?

Chronic pancreatitis occurs when digestive enzymes attack and destroy the pancreas and nearby tissues, causing scarring and pain. The usual cause of chronic pancreatitis is many years of alcohol abuse, but the chronic pancreatitis may also be triggered by only one acute attack, especially if the pancreatic ducts are damaged. The damaged ducts cause the pancreas to become inflamed, tissue to be destroyed, and scar tissue to develop.

Understanding the Pancreas

The pancreas is a large gland behind the stomach and close to the duodenum, the upper part of the small intestine. The pancreas secretes digestive enzymes (lipase, protease, and amylase) into the small intestine through a tube called the pancreatic duct. These enzymes help digest fats, proteins, and carbohydrates in food. The pancreas also releases the hormones insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream. These hormones help the body use the glucose it takes from food for energy.
Normally, digestive enzymes do not become active until they reach the small intestine, where they begin digesting food; however, if these enzymes become active inside the pancreas, they start "digesting" the pancreas itself.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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