Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2007;76(11):1693-1694

See related article on chronic pancreatitis.

What is chronic pancreatitis?

Chronic pancreatitis (PAN-kree-ah-TIE-tis) is when your pancreas (PAN-kree-us) is inflamed. Your pancreas is an organ near your stomach and liver that helps you absorb and digest food. Pancreatitis can damage your pancreas, but there are medicines that can help control your pain and help you have a normal life.

What causes it?

A common cause is drinking too much alcohol over many years. Very high levels of triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood) may also cause it. Pancreatitis may run in families. Sometimes medicines cause pancreatitis.

How can I tell if I have it?

You may have stomach pain that spreads to your back. The pain may be worse when you eat, and you may feel sick or vomit. Some people have high blood sugar or lose weight. You may also have diarrhea that smells bad because your body is not digesting food the right way. Some people have jaundice (yellowish eyes and skin and dark urine).

How can I find out if I have chronic pancreatitis?

Your doctor may do blood tests or scan your abdomen with a special machine. You may need to go to a doctor who is a specialist in diseases of the pancreas.

Is there any treatment?

Your treatment plan may include a low-fat diet, medicine for the pain, insulin, and enzyme tablets (pills that help you digest your food). Some people need to take medicines for depression. You may need more tests or surgery to control your pain. Some people get diabetes or cancer of the pancreas, which would need separate treatment.

What can I do?

  • Follow your treatment plan.

  • Work with your doctor to plan a healthy diet.

  • Quit smoking and stop drinking alcohol. Talk to your doctor about ways to quit.

  • Develop a list of goals to improve your quality of life, such as sleeping better or exercising. To reduce stress, learn relaxation exercises. If you are depressed, it may help to go to a counselor.

What can I expect?

Chronic pancreatitis is an ongoing disease. Your symptoms may get worse or go away, and then come back. You may feel depressed, angry, or frustrated. Chronic pain may make it hard for you to do your daily activities.

Where can I find more information?

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse

National Pancreas Foundation

American Gastroenterological Association

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