Chronic Pancreatitis

*Please note: This slide set represents a visual interpretation and is not intended to provide, nor substitute as, medical and/or clinical advice.

Chronic pancreatitis is caused by long-term inflammation of the pancreas…

… which eventually leads to the irreversible destruction of pancreatic tissue.

Chronic pancreatitis develops slowly over time and is predominantly triggered by lifestyle factors in predisposed patients, such as long-standing, heavy alcohol or tobacco use. Although this is not always the case.

Other less common causes are medications that put stress on the pancreas; elevated triglycerides; some auto-immune conditions; and some inherited or genetic conditions, notably cystic fibrosis and hereditary pancreatitis. In some people, the cause of chronic pancreatis is never discovered and remains a mystery.

The pancreas is a digestive system organ that has two important functions. It produces hormones that regulate blood sugar, as well as enzymes to break down food in the digestive tract.

When the pancreas doesn’t work properly, it affects the body’s ability to properly digest food. This means that some people with chronic pancreatitis are unable to get the nutrients they need from the food they eat.

They can have trouble digesting food properly or maintaining their blood sugar in a healthy range.

This can lead to nutrition-related disease such as weak bones and vision loss. Some people may also have difficulty gaining or maintaining their weight, and persistent pain.

The hallmark symptom of chronic pancreatitis is abdominal pain. The pain may be intermittent or chronic, and frequently very severe, with stabbing pains localized in the upper part of the abdomen between the belly button and the chest. The pain may radiate to the back and may be triggered by eating, especially high-fat foods.

As the disease progresses, the pain may become more severe and debilitating, and often it becomes constant. In some cases, surgery or endoscopic treatment may be required.

Oily, foul-smelling bowel movements and weight loss may be seen in the advanced stages of the disease and usually signals exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. As well, depending on the severity and extent of the damage to the pancreas, some people develop diabetes.

A combination of tests are used to diagnose chronic pancreatitis. In some people, diagnosis is challenging due to the course of the disease; however in others it is relatively straight-forward.

A CT scan of the abdomen is the most commonly-used test. An MRI or endoscopic ultrasound may also be used to confirm the diagnosis.

In some difficult to diagnose cases, pancreatic stimulation testing can be useful. This test artificially stimulates the pancreas using secretin. This test is expensive and invasive, so it is not frequently performed.

Blood tests are not useful for diagnosing chronic pancreatitis.

Although there is no cure for chronic pancreatitis, early diagnosis and treatment can help slow the progression of the disease. Treatment involves avoiding triggers – such as heavy alcohol use, smoking, and high-fat foods.

Other treatment interventions involve pain management, medication, such as pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT), and supporting a healthy diet with multivitamin and mineral supplements.

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Module Content

The Role and Anatomy of the Pancreas Acute Pancreatitis Chronic Pancreatitis Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)

Slide Notes

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Slide Show - Chronic Pancreatitis
This slide show describes the causes, symptoms, and factors in the development of chronic pancreatitis, as well as tools and tests used to diagnose the disease.

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Animation - Chronic Pancreatitis
This animation describes the causes, symptoms, and factors in the development of chronic pancreatitis, as well as tools and tests used to diagnose the disease.
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Expert Video - What is chronic pancreatitis and what are its causes and symptoms?
Physicians discuss chronic pancreatitis, including causes, risk factors and long-term consequences like nutrition-related diseases and EPI.
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Expert Video - How is chronic pancreatitis diagnosed?
Physicians discuss how they diagnose chronic pancreatitis, including lifestyle factors and symptoms that lead them to suspect a disease of the pancreas, and the follow-up tests that confirm the diagnosis of chronic pancreatitis.
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Expert Video - What is the link between alcohol, tobacco and chronic pancreatitis?
Physicians discuss the role of alcohol and tobacco consumption in chronic pancreatitis, including the amount of alcohol consumption that increases the risk, and whether certain people may be more inclined to develop alcohol-related acute pancreatitis.
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Patient Video - What were your symptoms of chronic pancreatitis? How was it diagnosed?
Patients with chronic pancreatitis discuss the symptoms they experienced that led them to their diagnosis. They also discuss the importance of getting checked if something feels wrong – some patients had symptoms that were initially dismissed.
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Patient Video - How do you explain your chronic pancreatitis to family and friends?
Patients with chronic pancreatitis talk about their experiences of telling friends and family about their disease. They discuss their struggle with being comfortable enough to discuss the details of their condition. By sharing their stories, they are becoming advocates for the disease.
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This educational activity has been developed by: The National Pancreas Foundation and Mechanisms in Medicine Inc.

This educational activity is supported by:

This website is part of the Animated Patient™ series that provides highly visual formats of learning for patients to improve their understanding, make informed decisions, and partner with their health care professionals for optimal outcomes.