Chronic pancreatitis causes attacks of abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting that are worsened by eating or drinking, especially alcohol. The chronic inflammation can cause progressive fibrosis and destruction of the pancreas resulting in a lack of pancreatic enzymes and insulin. Deficiency of pancreatic enzymes can interfere with the ability to digest fat while the lack of insulin can lead to diabetes. Recurrent attacks of acute pancreatitis are often superimposed on the chronic process.
Chronic pancreatitis is most commonly due to alcoholism and idiopathic (unknown) causes. Microlithiasis (tiny gallstones) causes some cases of chronic pancreatitis. Rare causes include hereditary pancreatitis, hyperparathyroidism, and obstruction of the main pancreatic duct caused by stenosis, stones, or cancer.