Causes and Symptoms of Chronic Pancreatitis
The pancreas helps regulate blood sugar and produces digestive enzymes that break down food. These digestive enzymes normally leave your pancreas through inner tubes into your upper intestine. In pancreatitis, however, the digestive enzymes become activated too early while still inside the pancreas. This makes the pancreas start “eating” itself (autodigestion), causing pain and inflammation. When this happens repeatedly, it can cause permanent damage to the structure and function of the pancreas (chronic pancreatitis).
Causes of Chronic Pancreatitis
Chronic pancreatitis can be caused by many factors, including genetic abnormality, physical injury to the pancreas, gallstones or other blockages, and medications. Alcohol use and smoking can contribute to chronic pancreatitis. For many patients, the cause is unknown (idiopathic pancreatitis).
Additionally, it is common for many people with chronic pancreatitis to have a previous diagnosis of acute pancreatitis or recurrent acute pancreatitis. Research has shown that 36% of those with recurrent acute pancreatitis will develop chronic pancreatitis.
Causes of chronic pancreatitis include:
- Autoimmune disorders
- Hypercalcemia (high levels of calcium in the blood)
- Chronic renal failure (decrease in the kidneys’ ability to filter waste and fluid from blood)
- Physical injury to the pancreas
- Obstructions (gallstones, other blockages)
- Certain medications
- Diabetes/Glucose Intolerance
- Acute/Recurrent Acute Pancreatitis
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Heavy alcohol consumption may contribute
- Idiopathic (unknown cause)
There is usually not just one factor causing chronic pancreatitis. Rather, research suggests that chronic pancreatitis is caused by a combination of lifestyle, environmental, and genetic factors.
Symptoms of Chronic Pancreatitis
Chronic pancreatitis symptoms can vary, but the main symptom of chronic pancreatitis is severe abdominal pain in the upper right abdomen that radiates to the back.
People with chronic pancreatitis may experience the following symptoms:
- Severe upper abdominal pain
- Back pain
- Weight loss
- Diarrhea, oily stools (steatorrhea)
- Digestive issues, such as malabsorption, especially fats
- Nutrition and vitamin deficiencies
- Belly pain that increases when you eat or drink alcohol
- Pancreatitis occurs when digestive enzymes activate inside the pancreas before they enter the small intestine, which can cause permanent damage
- Chronic pancreatitis can be caused by many factors, such as genetics, physical injury, blockages, or medications
- Research shows that a combination of lifestyle, environmental, and genetic factors can cause chronic pancreatitis
- The main symptom of pancreatitis is abdominal pain, but other symptoms include back pain, weight loss, and other digestive issues
Get Updates in Your Inbox
Stay up-to-date on the latest Mission: Cure news and developments in pancreatitis care by signing up for our newsletter.