How is chronic pancreatitis diagnosed?
Diagnosing chronic pancreatitis in its early stages is often difficult. There is no easy test to detect early damage to the pancreas. Many pancreatic cells can be damaged before abnormalities show up on tests, x-rays or scans. Also, the amount
of enzymes made by the pancreas and the number of insulin producing cells can become quite low before symptoms of poor digestion or diabetes develop. There are a number of causes of abdominal pain which may be confused with chronic pancreatitis. However, if other causes of persistent abdominal pain are ruled out and there is a history of regular heavy alcohol drinking then chronic pancreatitis is a likely diagnosis.
Diagnosis may be aided by a number of new techniques. Pancreatic function tests help the physician decide if the pancreas still can make enough digestive enzymes. The doctor can see abnormalities in the pancreas using several techniques (ultrasonic imaging, endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), and the CAT scan). In more advanced stages of the disease, when diabetes and malabsorption (a problem due to lack of enzymes) occur, the doctor can use a number of blood, urine, and stool tests to help in the diagnosis of chronic pancreatitis and to monitor the progression of the disorder.