Is atrophy of the pancreas something to be concerned about?

7 answers | Last updated: Feb 27, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

CT scan showed atrophy of the body and tail of the pancreas. A previous CT scan years ago showed that the tail of the pancreas was small. My family doctor and my gastroenterologist don't seem to think this is something to worry about. I have pain and burning in my upper abdomen and back, can't eat much more than saltines and drink gingerale because of nausea, very tired all the time, belching and passing gas more than usual, changes in stools and urine. My gastro even suggested that it was "psychological" and asked if I had ever been sexually abused! Time for a new doctor?

Expert Answers

Jennifer Serafin, N.P. is a registered nurse and geriatric nurse practitioner at the Jewish Homes for the Aged in San Francisco.

Your CT scan shows some atrophy of the pancreas. The most common causes of atrophy of the pancreas are obesity and chronic diabetes. Diabetics can develop gastroparesis, which causes the digestion to slow. This can cause nausea, belching, and constipation, which could explain the symptoms you describe.

I hope that your gastroenterologist ruled out pancreatic enzyme deficiencies to explain your symptoms. If not, this could be another possibility.

What I recommend for you is to get another gastroenterologist to see you for a second opinion. If no physical cause for your digestive issues can be found, then of course a depression or anxiety can certainly cause abdominal issues when not properly treated or recognized. Certain antidepressants have been shown to help reduce chronic abdominal pain and improve overall well being. I would definitely recommend that this is something you should look into if your 2nd opinion doesn't turn up anything. Good luck!

Community Answers

Timuk answered...

The answer you received from Jennifer could not have been more helpful and sound medical advise. Yes, it is most essential you ask your doctor to do blood tests to examine your pancreatic enzymes. There are now simple yet highly sensitive blood tests that may well explain why you are experiencing your symtoms. I too have atrophy of the pancreas and many of the symptoms you describe. I now eat a diet very low in saturated fats and this in time eased most of my symptoms. I really suggest you see a different gastroentologist and they (and your doctor) go straight back to medical school. The pancreas is a tiny, yet vital organ - there are condtitions other than diabetes that should first be ruled out. The good news is, most symptoms of the pancreas can easily be resolved with minor diet and lifestyle changes and hopfully very soon you will be feeling much better.

Chropancreassufferer answered...

I too have atrophy of the pancreas due to a rare condition called a pancreas divism with severe chronic pancreatitis. Everything you are describing is chronic pancreatitis and I think you need an ERCP because a lot of illnesses of the pancreas, like mine, can only be diagnosed by an ERCP and go to a Pancreatic Specialist (AKA a Billiary expert), that your gastro doc can refer you to one. I went through multiple stent placements and removals before needing a Whipple with an Islet Auto Transplant November 3rd 2010 at UAB in Birmingham, Alabama. I was sick from 06 to 09 when they, Baylor hospital in Dallas, finally figured it after three years of test, after test, after tests, they figured it out when I was dying and decided to do an ERCP and finally figured out what was wrong with me because I happen to have two small pancreatic ducts, where the average person has one main duct, which does not show up on ANY scan,ultrasound, nothing and both ducts were shut that they could not even get stents into the ducts that my pancreas was about to rupture, so they had to force them in and I went into acute kidney failure and was on dialysis..BTW it was Christmas eve 09 when they found out what was making me sick all this time and all they could say was "SORRY" we didn't believe you but not before accusing me of being a drug seeker, alcoholic, hypochondriac, etc for three years because labs and scans and bone marrow biopsies and lumbar punctures showed nothing.I know my body well and went from doctor to doctor because yeah they can check your Amylase and Lipase but my pancreas is so atrophic it no longer registers either. If you need any help or advice feel free to e-mail me. I don't freely give out my e-mail but have been where you are and you can, I hate to say it, die from this(pancreatitis, etc) if you don't get proper care. I am only saying to anybody with chronic health issue that when you are sick and lack a diagnosis it is important to be your own advocate because nobody else will be and don't take NO for an answer. Labs and scans are not always the answer and I am living proof of that!

Jonathan close answered...

i would like to share my own pancreatic experience, hope this gives you some clarity of your condition. I am from Northern ireland and i am currently 28 years of age.

When i was 21 i was admitted to hospital with acute pancreatitus, i can only describe the pain as having a knife in your side which you can not remove and the only way to stop the pain is not to eat, by the way morphine based drugs do not work, they only send the pancreatitc duct to spasm causing more pain, i found ibrophen was a god send along with green tea reduced my time in hospital to 3 days. Following a 2 week stay i was discharged when the inflammation and pain subsided. 2 weeks later i got another bout of acute pancreatitus, at this age it is uncommon, however the doctors kept asking if i was a drinker, which i would have had a few drinks at the the weekend with my friends but nothing excessive. anyway i got another round of pancreatitus 3 weeks later after which they sent me to a gastro doctor who then referred me to the cystic fibrosis clinic.

After some genetic testing they found that i had CFTR related pancreatitus with a 508 gene on one side of the DNA chain causing recurring pancreatitus at which point they labelled me as chronic.

i was then refereed back to a gastro doctor who after another bout of pancreatitus seen that my pancreatic duct was dilated and there was some slush stones in my galbladder, they removed the gal bladder and i have been symptom free for 6 years.

I went for a recent CT which showed pancreatic atrophy and extensive calcification, however i do not feel any pain.

what has brought me to this page is that i am finding it hard to get life insurance and was looking clarification of the calcification and its effects in future life?

any way i hope this helps pengiun1 and thanks for sharing your experience.

Tchoutz answered...

I to have atrophy body and tail perCT. I am presently fighting with the doctors I have been sick since Feb. My blood work shows low lipase and amylase. I noticed that my numbers were ok in Oct however in Feb my numbers dropped and continually drops. My one number is low as 5 ul. I have had pain. My gallbladder was removed 3 weeks ago. It showed inflamed with adhesions. However my bloodwork never showed the infection. I continue to have pain nausea and diaharra. No gastro dr is listening. My pancreas is find. I even had a nurse tell me lipase and amylase is for the liver. That's not what my research shows.

Aliceginger answered...

I have lipase results over 2250 and amylase over 250 ct shows atrophy of pancreas tail no pain no nausea only symptoms are joint pain

Winny answered...

I had pancreatic and biliary sphinctherotomies done along with removal of the sphincter of Oddi (which is the common sphincter for bile and pancreatic enzymes into the small intestine area). This needs to be done by extreeeeeemely experienced pancreas specialists or you can end up worse. Not something for a new guy or gal to try. My atrophic pancreatitis was started by the scarring of these ducts due to radiation therapy which caused atrophic changes all through my abdomen and then was finished off with a headache condition that only responds to indomethacin. NSAIDs, Lasix, Prednisone all can cause elevated Lipase and worsen pancreatitis. I think it depends on the individual. I do not drink or smoke and have never done either except for a glass of wine on my birthday which I no longer do. I am certain the scarring was from the radiation so I may be unusual. Pancreatic enzymes did help with the pain however in the US they are all mammalian based (pork) and I have the mammalian meat allergy you get from lone start tick bites. Did I mention how unlucky I am??? If you have consistent pain in the abdomen and the quick off the cuff is your are depressed, please seek a second opinion. Many GI docs do not believe the sphincter of Oddi dysfunction exists, yet my three sphincters all failed ercp manometry testing showing scarring. I continue to lose pancreatic function with a few calcifications but maintain a low fat diet (a bit over 9 grams a day I was told under 9 grams you can cause liver problems) and eat very small meals when I can. Nausea just becomes part of your life. Hope this helps someone. Join a discussion group on social media about this. It helped me navigate the illness.