Chronic pancreatitis can be very painful. Our experts specialize in treating this condition and work tirelessly to help our patients find much-needed pain relief. UCLA’s Agi Hirshberg Center for Pancreatic Disease is also one of only a few places nationwide where patients can receive auto-islet transplant for chronic pancreatitis.
Chronic pancreatitis is a painful inflammatory disease that destroys pancreatic tissue and replaces it with scar tissue. Over time, this condition can damage your body’s ability to produce digestive enzymes (juices) and hormones like insulin that control blood sugar.
Chronic pancreatitis is categorized as either alcoholic pancreatitis or idiopathic pancreatitis.
Alcoholic pancreatitis is a progressive disease that may worsen even after a patient stops drinking. An episode of binge drinking can cause an attack similar to acute pancreatitis. In these cases, alcohol has likely permanently damaged the pancreas.
Up to 30 percent of chronic pancreatitis cases have no apparent cause and are labeled idiopathic. Up to half of these patients will be pain-free, but other symptoms may still be present.
Alcoholism is the main cause of chronic pancreatitis, representing roughly three in four cases in the U.S.
Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include:
Your doctor may order an imaging test, such as X-ray, CT (computerized tomography) scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), to look for calcifications that indicate chronic pancreatitis.
Minimally invasive interventional endoscopy (using a thin, flexible tube inserted into the digestive tract) can also help doctors see inside the pancreatic duct and bile duct. UCLA has the largest team of interventional endoscopy specialists in Los Angeles, helping more patients get answers without the need for surgery.
In certain cases, it can be difficult for doctors to tell between chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. When a patient is pain-free but exhibits symptoms like jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) and weight loss, surgery may be needed to make the diagnosis.
The first step in treating pain associated with chronic pancreatitis is to immediately stop drinking and smoking. Up to 50 percent of patients experience some pain relief when they stop drinking alcohol.
However, pain may continue for those whose disease has damaged the pancreas. If pain is interfering with your quality of life by causing problems like frequent hospitalization or depression, your doctor may recommend surgery.
There are three types of surgery to relieve pain in chronic pancreatitis patients:
Learn more about chronic pancreatitis treatments.
While other surgeries for chronic pancreatitis vary in their ability to provide successful pain relief, total pancreatectomy can completely resolve pain associated with the condition. However, this leaves patients without the ability to produce insulin and is typically only used when other treatments have failed.
UCLA is one of just a few hospitals nationwide offering auto-islet transplant for patients who undergo pancreatectomy for chronic pancreatitis. After removing the pancreas, specialists transplant insulin-producing cells from the pancreas to the liver. This procedure often eliminates or reduces the need for insulin injections.
Learn more about UCLA’s auto-islet transplant program.
For more information or to make an appointment with our team of specialists, please call us at (310) 206-6889.