Is atrophy of the pancreas something to be concerned about?

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 Answer

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!