Diagnosing chronic pancreatitis 

Chronic pancreatitis can usually only be diagnosed by carrying out scans of the pancreas.

Your GP will ask about your symptoms and may carry out a simple physical examination, but they'll refer you for further tests if they suspect chronic pancreatitis.

These tests are usually carried out in your local hospital and may include:

  • requesting a stool sample
  • an ultrasound scan where sound waves are used to build up a picture of the inside of your pancreas
  • a computerised tomography (CT) scan where a series of X-rays are taken to build up a more detailed, three-dimensional image of the pancreas
  • an endoscopic ultrasonography (see below)
  • a magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography or MRCP (see below)

Endoscopic ultrasonography

During an endoscopic ultrasonography, a thin, flexible telescope (endoscope) is passed through your mouth and towards your stomach. An ultrasound probe attached to the tip of the endoscope is able to get close to the pancreas and take very accurate pictures of it.

You'll usually be given a sedative to help you relax during the procedure.

MRCP

An MRCP involves injecting you with a substance known as a contrast agent that makes your pancreas and surrounding organs, such as the gallbladder and liver, show up very clearly on a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner.

An MRI scanner is a type of imaging system that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to build up a detailed image of the inside of your body.

An MRCP is a useful way of checking whether gallstones may be contributing to your symptoms.

Biopsy

Sometimes, the symptoms of chronic pancreatitis can be very similar to pancreatic cancer. Therefore, if you have symptoms such as jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes) and weight loss, a biopsy may be recommended to rule out a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

biopsy involves taking a small sample of cells from the pancreas and sending it to a laboratory, so it can be checked under a microscope for the presence of cancerous cells.

A biopsy can be taken using a long, thin needle that's passed through your abdomen. The needle can be guided towards the tumour using an ultrasound scan or CT scan.

Alternatively, a biopsy can be taken during an endoscopic ultrasonography (see above).


Page last reviewed: 05/03/2015

Next review due: 05/03/2017