Chronic Pancreatitis: Diagnosis and Treatment

Am Fam Physician. 2018 Mar 15;97(6):385-393.


Chronic pancreatitis is an irreversible and progressive disorder of the pancreas characterized by inflammation, fibrosis, and scarring. Exocrine and endocrine functions are lost, often leading to chronic pain. The etiology is multifactorial, although alcoholism is the most significant risk factor in adults. The average age at diagnosis is 35 to 55 years. If chronic pancreatitis is suspected, contrast-enhanced computed tomography is the best imaging modality for diagnosis. Computed tomography may be inconclusive in early stages of the disease, so other modalities such as magnetic resonance imaging, magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography, or endoscopic ultrasonography with or without biopsy may be used. Recommended lifestyle modifications include cessation of alcohol and tobacco use and eating small, frequent, low-fat meals. Although narcotics and antidepressants provide the most pain relief, one-half of patients eventually require surgery. Therapeutic endoscopy is indicated to treat symptomatic strictures, stones, and pseudocysts. Decompressive surgical procedures, such as lateral pancreaticojejunostomy, are indicated for large duct disease (pancreatic ductal dilation of 7 mm or more). Resection procedures, such as the Whipple procedure, are indicated for small duct disease or pancreatic head enlargement. The risk of pancreatic cancer is increased in patients with chronic pancreatitis, especially hereditary pancreatitis. Although it is not known if screening improves outcomes, clinicians should counsel patients on this increased risk and evaluate patients with weight loss or jaundice for neoplasm.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy
  • Cholangiopancreatography, Magnetic Resonance
  • Decompression, Surgical / methods*
  • Diet / methods*
  • Endoscopy, Digestive System
  • Humans
  • Multimodal Imaging / methods*
  • Pancreaticojejunostomy*
  • Pancreatitis, Chronic / diagnosis*
  • Pancreatitis, Chronic / therapy*
  • Prognosis
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed