Axial CT showing multiple calcifications in the pancreas in a patient with chronic pancreatitis
|Classification and external resources|
Chronic pancreatitis is a long-standing inflammation of the pancreas that alters the organ's normal structure and functions. It can present as episodes of acute inflammation in a previously injured pancreas, or as chronic damage with persistent pain or malabsorption. It is a disease process characterized by irreversible damage to the pancreas as distinct from reversible changes in acute pancreatitis.
Signs and symptoms
The symptoms consistent with chronic pancreatitis usually present with persistent abdominal pain or steatorrhea resulting from malabsorption of the fats in food. Significant weight loss often occurs due to malabsorption and can continue to be a health problem as the condition progresses. The patient may also complain about pain related to their food intake, especially those meals containing a high percentage of fats and protein.
The relationship between etiologic factors, genetic predisposition, and the pace of disease progression requires further clarification, though recent research indicates smoking may be a high-risk factor to develop chronic pancreatitis. In a small group of patients chronic pancreatitis has been shown to be hereditary. Almost all patients with cystic fibrosis have established chronic pancreatitis, usually from birth. Cystic fibrosis gene mutations have also been identified in patients with chronic pancreatitis but in whom there were no other manifestations of cystic fibrosis. Obstruction of the pancreatic duct because of either a benign or malignant process may result in chronic pancreatitis.
The mechanism of chronic pancreatitis viewed from a genetic standpoint indicates early onset of severe epigastric pain beginning in childhood. It is an autosomal dominant disease, chronic pancreatitis disease is identified in the cationic trypsinogen gene PRSS1, and mutation, R122H. R122H is the most common mutation for hereditary chronic pancreatitis with replacement of arginine with histidine at amino acid position 122 of the trypsinogen protein. There are, of course, other mechanisms – alcohol, malnutrition, smoking – each exhibiting its own effect on the pancreas.
The diagnosis of chronic pancreatitis is based on tests on pancreatic structure and function. Serum amylase and lipase may be moderately elevated in cases of chronic pancreatitis, amylase and lipase are nearly always found elevated in the acute condition. A secretin stimulation test is considered the best test for diagnosis of chronic pancreatitis. Other tests used to determine chronic pancreatitis are serum trypsinogen, computed tomography, ultrasound and biopsy.
The different treatment options for management of chronic pancreatitis are medical measures, therapeutic endoscopy and surgery. Treatment is directed, when possible, to the underlying cause, and to relieve pain and malabsorption. Insulin dependent diabetes mellitus may occur and need long term insulin therapy. The abdominal pain can be very severe and require high doses of analgesics, sometimes including opiates. Alcohol cessation and dietary modifications (low-fat diet) are important to manage pain and slow the calcific process. Antioxidants may help but it is unclear if the benefits are meaningful.
Pancreatic enzyme replacement is often effective in treating the malabsorption and steatorrhea associated with chronic pancreatitis. Treatment of CP consists of administration of a solution of pancreatic enzymes with meals. Some patients do have pain reduction with enzyme replacement and since they are relatively safe, giving enzyme replacement to a chronic pancreatitis patient is an acceptable step in treatment for most patients. Treatment may be more likely to be successful in those without involvement of large ducts and those with idiopathic pancreatitis.
Surgery to treat chronic pancreatitis tends to be divided into two areas – resectional and drainage procedures. Among the reasons to opt for surgery are if there is a pseudocyst, fistula, ascites, or a fixed obstruction.
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