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Home > Services > Digestive Health > Digestive Conditions > Chronic Pancreatitis

Chronic Pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis is a progressive inflammation of the pancreas marked by frequent acute attacks and risk of permanent organ damage.

It may result from injury, chronic infection, drug or toxic exposure, autoimmune disease or blockage of the pancreas. In some cases it is genetic and sometimes has no known cause.

Are You at Risk?

Chronic pancreatitis is more common in men. Other factors that may increase your risk of chronic pancreatitis include:

Personal health history, such as:

  • Excess alcohol intake
  • Smoking
  • Recurrent attacks of acute pancreatitis
  • Family history of:
    • Hyperparathyroidism associated with chronic pancreatitis
    • Chronic pancreatitis
    • Hypercalcemia
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Congenital conditions, such as pancreas divisum
  • Ischemia — insufficient blood supply to the pancreas
  • Hyperlipidemia — elevated blood fat levels
  • Hypertriglyceridemia — elevated blood triglyceride levels
  • Hypercalcemia — elevated blood calcium levels
  • Cystic fibrosis

Conditions that obstruct the passageway from the pancreas to the small intestine include:

  • Trauma
  • Tumors
  • Pseudocysts — build up of fluids and debris

Chronic pancreatitis is a risk factor for developing pancreatic cancer.

Symptoms of Chronic Pancreatitis

Symptoms may be mild, but progressive. Chronic pancreatitis may cause:

  • Abdominal pain that may get worse when eating or drinking, spreads to the back or becomes constant and disabling
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea or white stools
  • Symptoms of diabetes
  • Jaundice

Diagnosing Chronic Pancreatitis

Diagnosing chronic pancreatitis is difficult. Symptoms are not specific early on.

Your bodily fluids and waste products may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Stool tests

Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Abdominal CT scan
  • Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

Treatment Options

Treatment aims to relieve pain and manage nutritional and metabolic problems. Treatment may be started in a hospital until you are stabilized. Stabilization can be done with:

  • IV fluids
  • Nasogastric tube—A long, thin tube is threaded through your nose and into your stomach for feeding


Your doctor may recommend:

  • Prescription pain relievers
  • Pancreatic enzymes
  • Vitamin supplements
  • Medications to control diabetes if it develops

Lifestyle Changes

  1. Stop drinking alcohol. Stopping your alcohol intake is the most important intervention in your treatment.
  2. Quit smoking
  3. Restrict the amount of fat in your diet. Pancreatic damage interferes with the body's ability to process fats. 


Surgery may be needed in severe cases:

  • Necrosectomy — Removal of dying or dead (necrotic) pancreatic tissue. Pancreatic necrosis is more serious if an infection is present. This procedure can also be done with endoscopy.
  • ECRP — To open any collapsed ducts or drain cysts
  • Cholecystectomy — To remove the gallbladder


Speak with your doctor to get a referral.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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