What Is Chronic Pancreatitis?

Chronic pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas that worsens over time. It causes scarring and permanent damage to the pancreas.

The pancreas is a large gland behind the stomach that makes enzymes (digestive juices) that travel to the upper portion of the digestive tract, where they help to digest food.

In a healthy pancreas, these enzymes do not become active until they reach the upper part of the digestive tract.  But when the pancreas is inflamed, the enzymes become active while they are still in the pancreas, and begin attacking the tissues inside the pancreas. These tissues become damaged and cannot produce new enzymes.  Scar tissue develops over time and the pancreas shrinks in size.  When that happens, the pancreas cannot produce enough enzymes needed for digestion.

Over time, this tissue damage can become permanent. The ability to digest food is impaired and the pancreas cannot produce enough enzymes to help control blood sugar. At this point, the pancreatitis is considered chronic.