Chronic pancreatitis is
long-term progressive inflammatory disease of the pancreas that leads to
permanent deterioration of the structure and function of the pancreas.
It is estimated that in Western Europe and North American chronic
pancreatitis is diagnosed in 3 to 9 people in every 100,000 each year.
The most common cause is long-term alcohol abuse - it is thought to
account for approximately 70% of all cases. The gradual rise in the
incidence of chronic pancreatitis in several countries around the globe
has been attributed to increasing alcohol consumption and earlier
Chronic pancreatitis results in over 122,000 outpatient visits and
56,000 hospitalizations annually in the USA. Significantly more men than
women are affected.
Chronic pancreatitis usually begins in adults aged 40 to 50.
What is the pancreas?
The pancreas is a gland organ that is located in the abdomen, behind the
stomach and below the ribcage. It is part of the digestive system and
produces important enzymes and hormones that help break down foods. It
has an endocrine function because it releases juices directly into the
bloodstream, and it has an exocrine function because it releases juices
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Enzymes, or digestive juices, produced by the pancreas are secreted into
the small intestine to further break down food after it has left the
stomach. The gland also produces the hormone insulin and secretes it
into the bloodstream in order to regulate the body's glucose or sugar
What are the symptoms of chronic pancreatitis?
* Pain - the patient may feel pain in the upper abdomen. The pain may
sometimes be severe and can travel along the back. It is usually more
intense after eating. Some pain relief may be gained by leaning forward
or curling into a ball.
* Nausea and vomiting - more commonly experienced during episodes of
* Constant pain - As the disease progresses the episodes of pain become
more frequent and severe. Some patients eventually suffer constant
As chronic pancreatitis progresses, and the pancreas' ability to produce
digestive juices deteriorates, the following symptoms will appear:
* Smelly and greasy feces (stools)
* Abdominal cramps
* Flatulence (breaking wind, farting)