Chronic pancreatitis 

Introduction 

Anatomy of the abdomen 

The pancreas

The pancreas is a small, tadpole-shaped organ located behind the stomach and below the ribcage. It has two important functions:

  • it produces digestive chemicals (enzymes) used by the intestines to help digest food
  • it produces powerful hormones – the most important being insulin, which regulates the levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood

Chronic pancreatitis is a condition where the pancreas becomes permanently damaged due to inflammation.

It is different to acute pancreatitis, where the inflammation is only short-term.

The most common symptom of chronic pancreatitis is repeated episodes of abdominal (tummy) pain, which can be severe.

Other symptoms tend to develop as the damage to the pancreas progresses, such as producing greasy, foul-smelling stools.

Read more about the symptoms of chronic pancreatitis and diagnosing chronic pancreatitis.

When to seek medical advice

Always visit your GP if you are experiencing severe pain – it is a warning sign that something is wrong.

Why it happens

Long-term alcohol misuse is responsible for around 7 out of every 10 cases of chronic pancreatitis. This is because heavy drinking over a number of years can repeatedly damage the pancreas.

Less common causes include:

  • smoking, which can also increase the risk of alcohol-related chronic pancreatitis
  • a problem with the immune system that causes it to attack the pancreas
  • an inherited genetic mutation that disrupts the functions of the pancreas

In about 2 in every 10 cases, no specific cause is identified.

Read more about the causes of chronic pancreatitis.

Who is affected

Chronic pancreatitis can affect people of any age, but is most common in middle-aged men aged between 45 and 54.

Between 2012 and 2013, over 35,000 people visited hospitals in England with the condition.

How it is treated

In most cases of chronic pancreatitis, there is no specific treatment to reduce the inflammation and repair the damage to the pancreas.

Therefore, treatment mainly focuses on lifestyle changes (see below) and medication to relieve the pain. Surgery is sometimes needed to treat severe chronic pain that does not respond to painkillers.

However, the pain can be difficult to treat and can seriously affect your quality of life.

People who do not smoke cigarettes and who avoid drinking alcohol tend to experience less pain and live longer than those who continue to drink and smoke after receiving a diagnosis.

Read more about treating chronic pancreatitis.

Complications

Diabetes is a common complication of chronic pancreatitis and affects about half of people with the condition. It occurs when the pancreas is damaged and is unable to produce insulin.

People with chronic pancreatitis also have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Read more about the possible complications of chronic pancreatitis.




Page last reviewed: 26/03/2013

Next review due: 26/03/2015

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Comments

The 11 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

bignick33 said on 09 April 2014

Hi folks,

I have been dealing with cronic pancreatitus for 10years now. Drugged up on class A painkillers for 5 years is no fun, i`v come of the addiction 5 times feeling the sinking low hell of depression that comes with the withdrawel symtoms. Yes, it is one of the most unpredictable, serverly painful condition. I feel alone sometimes, but that is just a peace of mind.
Too all of you that have this condition, you are not alone, there are many of us out there.

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coldstorage1 said on 04 April 2014

Im a 33yr old female with pancreatits and I agree with all the comments made that u feel so alone when dealing with it. I find that sometimes it isn't taking seriously enough and the minute u are asked if u drink smoke or anything that its ur own fault and u should deal with it. But I wish it was as easy as that as myself have found ur whole attitude changes I used to be a lot a happier and full of life but feel some what that it has been taking from me and ur alone and sometimes worried sick to whats going to happen the emotional aspect of it I feel dosent get looked into enough with no support groups and asking ur Gp for advice the common answer is we don't know.x

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kellylou83 said on 24 March 2014

Hi I have had chronic pancreatitis for two years now I have all sorts of pain medication and still have a lot of pain I have last my job because of all the time had off and my home too as I lived in a top floor flat me and my husband moved in with my parents last year as I was finding it harder to go outside I still have trouble going about some days I am luckily that I have a good family and my husband is great but I have been looking for people that have chronic pancreatitis as they would understand what Its like to live with as it will not get better! There Is no support groups for people with chronic pancreatitis! I always ask my go questions but he has become unable to tell me anything new! I am really down now on meds fir that too and if it was not for my husband and family I don't think I could go on I am 31 years old and feel I have no control of it!

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DarrenGYR said on 08 July 2013

I coulndt agree more with maharg! I am alo a sufferer of chronic pancreatitis and I feel the same, I am a 30 year old male and was diagnosed about 2 years ago I also feel isolated and alone when I comes to peoples perceptions, my partner doesn't even seem to understand or believe the serverity of an attack and this really gets to me, sometimes I get so depressed with it all and it never ends as the attacks can be so sudden and for no apparent reason. Quality of life is awful I'm either hugging a hot water bottle curled up in pain on the couch or in bed unable to sleep with the pain if not I'm in hospital were I've spent the best part of the last 2 years as a result a lost my job through it last week. Are there any groups or forums or anyone to speak to about this because I feel alone.

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meharg said on 30 January 2013

Hello,i,m Josie and i,m suffering from chronic pancreatitis.
I just cannot believe at the way i,ve been treated by doctors who,are,after all in a job because of sick people.
I,ve been labelled a malingerer,attention seekingetc you name it i,ve had it dished out to me one way or another by staff at all levels.To even begin to explain how bad the pain is,is,in ittself inexplicable.
You see,we don,t have arms in slings or other suchlike so the sympathy levels are practially nil,even from family members.I,m having opiates for the pain but as my body has become used to them i am needing more.
It would just be easier all round i the problem wold go away,it hasn,t and won,t so life goes on,if you call lyng on a settee all day and then a bed all night....living?
If someone can offer any support i,d appreciate it.
By the way i,m female and over the age of 60 and my sister has a theory that we just don,t exist.???

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benedictj said on 29 January 2013

"Type 1 diabetes is a common complication of chronic pancreatitis"

The line above is a little misleading. Type 1 diabetes is specifically an autoimmune disease. Chronic pancreatits can lead to loss of pancreatic function, but this is not the same as being type 1 diabetes.

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sue1960 said on 12 December 2012

hi pip 007,we same to have the same illness i also suffer from chronic pancreaitis,and you are so so very righ about feeling very isolated,there is no where to go or ask for support,an like you i never drink an was never a heavy drinker wen i was younger,iam under st,barts in the city i have many other health issues,which makes any treatment,for cp impossible to try an treat,the pain is so hard to discribe to anyone,its like haveing ur arms an legs tied an its like someone slicing ur tummy an pouring pure acid into ur wounds,iam on mst morphine an oramorph liquid which i have to take every time i eat,and then you panic coz you no the pain is gona bring you to ur knee,s.i have asked the hospital in basildon an also the top hospitals in london an there is no support for people like you and me. somtimes i would be lovely to talk to someome who has this illness ,as they would no just how you would feel ,as it effects your moods an sugar levels .the hospital gave me creon ,but it made my symptons worse. hope your ok and not in to much pain,regards sue xx

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pmanderson said on 11 November 2012

i couldn't agree more with pip007. my husband has been suffering with chronic pancreatitis for a long time now and from past experience with hospitals and in particular the nurses, immediately judging and presuming it is alcohol related. my husband hasnt touched alcohol since he was diagnosed 12 years ago, but still they ask. they dont seem to realise how bad the pain can be and do not adequately deal with the pain. my husband is in hospital at the moment because of complications and they are not dealing with the pain at all. because he has had the condition for so long, his tolerance to the pain relief is so high, he is on very high doses of oxycontin and oxynorm at home, but in hospital as i speak they are offering paracetomol and 40mg of oxynorm. something must be done to raise awareness in hospitals of this condition because nobody knows what they are doing

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Pip 007 said on 22 October 2012

August last year I was admitted to hospital with acute pancreatitis, I am still suffering with it, now classified as chronic. I am not and never was a drinker and live a reasonably healthy life with a reasonable diet. Now I eat much less, although his controls the amount of pain, my stamina is not good. I feel very isolated and unsupported by the GP's. As I do not come under the 2 main causes they do not know what to do. Reading in the internet about it I seemed to be very lucky as I avoid the hospital and manage any pain just at home. My heart goes out to anyone suffering wit it as it is not nice and very supported. It has taken me along time to open up and write this comment,

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deckhanddave said on 30 June 2010

PeterNL is right. I suffered a heart attack 4 years ago. Since then I've had numerous health problems which have been getting worse. My Doc had a eureka moment recently and suspects Chronic Pancreatitis. Because I have no history of alcohol / substance abuse no one had considered this, even though my symptoms ticked all the boxes. Everyone kept looking at my heart. The only probable cause we can see is, when I arrested the second time during my heart attack, the nurse applied a Pricordial thump (I believe that's the correct spelling and name) which we now theorise may have inflicted some damage. May or may not be correct but it shows it isn't always self inflicted.

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PeterNL said on 07 June 2010

Although perhaps 70% of all cases of chronic pancreatitis can be attributed to long-term alcohol abuse, I think it would be appropriate to mention, or emphasize in this article, the fact that other causes may apply as well. Not doing so may help create a public perception of chronic pancreatitis 'in principle' being a self-induced condition.

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Long-term conditions

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