Chronic pancreatitis is a chronic inflammation of the pancreas. It’s main cause is alcohol abuse. Thanks to the contribution of Professor Alessandro Zerbi, Head of Surgery of the Pancreas at Humanitas, we learned what symptoms manifest this disease and what are the treatment options.
“Chronic pancreatitis traditionally affects young men, lately the epidemiology is changing, and some women are affected. It is a disease which is quite debilitating because when it establishes itself, it does not regress. It is usually unable to stabilize or tends to worsen. Long-term presence is a non negligible risk factor for pancreatic cancer”.
What symptoms occur?
“Pain in the upper quadrant of the abdomen, between the navel and the breastbone, which often radiates behind the back, is the main symptom. Initially it is a post-prandial pain, thus begining after you have eaten. In more advanced forms the pain tends to move away from food intake and becomes constant to such an extent as to requiren more and more strong painkillers“.
How is it diagnosed?
“The diagnosis relies on imaging studies that highlight the pancreas: an ultrasound may be the initial test, then a CT, magnetic resonance imaging and endoscopic ultrasonography“.
How to deal with chronic pancreatitis?
“The first step in the treatment of this disease is to try to change habits. It is important, therefore, to reduce alcohol intake and smoking, which are often a contributing factor. Then, you must pay more attention to food intake. Often patients are not on a nutritious diet. Their condition can improve through the intake of substitutes of pancreatic enzymes. These improve the absorption of food because people suffering from chronic pancreatitis produce less enzymes and thus absorb less nutrients.
The therapy tries to be as conservative as possible, initially with behavioral medicine, and with endoscopy (you can insert a stent within the pancreas to facilitate the outflow of enzymes). In the most advanced stages, in which principal symptoms become increasingly important, the pancreas enlarges and compresses the surrounding organs. Feeding difficulties occur and jaundice is common. It is sometimes necessary to resort to surgery, even with partial removal of the pancreas if necessary”, concludes Professor Zerbi.