What is an Atrophic Pancreas?

The pancreas gland is made up of two main components called the exocrine component and the endocrine component. Both the components work together to serve the body cells for multiple functions like in digestive and endocrine systems respectively. The exocrine gland works by producing and releasing digestive enzymes which are extremely important for the breaking down of large molecules of food into smaller particles to be absorbed readily by the body cells.

On the other hand, the endocrine component of the pancreas functions by producing two major hormones called the insulin and glucagon for the absorption and usage of glucose in our body. Atrophy is a pathological term used for the shrinkage of an organ or body tissue. In this case, an atrophic pancreas simply means the destruction of mostly all exocrine components and destruction of some part of the endocrine components of the pancreas.

The pathology usually occurs by replacement of these glands by fat tissues followed by gradual destruction of the glands. Research and datas proved there are multiple etiologies towards the occurrence of an atrophic pancreas, namely ageing, obesity and chronic pancreatitis being the most common. Keep reading the article to learn more about pancreas atrophy.

What are the Causes of Atrophic Pancreas?

There are generally multiple causes for an atrophic pancreas, the most common being alcoholism followed by chronic pancreatitis, autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes mellitus and the normal ageing process. However, the pathophysiology of how this atrophy occurs is still unclear. It is said that harmful chemicals from chronic alcoholism and inflammatory markers from chronic pancreatitis have destructive mechanisms on the acinar glands of pancreas leading to atrophy.

Diagnosing pancreas atrophy can be difficult at times as it takes many laboratory investigations and imaging investigations to confirm the diagnosis of pancreas atrophy. Patients usually manifest with symptoms of pancreatic dysfunction like digestive problems, diabetes and having pale and greasy stool which is often hard to be flushed off. This is due to deficiency of both endocrine and exocrine hormones and enzymes secreted by pancreas. Pale and greasy stool which is difficult to be flushed is normally due to fat malabsorption because of lack of the enzyme lipase.

Appropriate laboratory blood investigations are usually required to identify the deficiency of enzymes produced by pancreas. Imaging like CT scan is often required to make a diagnosis of pancreas atrophy.

Can Pancreas Atrophy Be Cured?

The damage done to the pancreas is usually not reversible and appropriate treatment options need to be discussed with your treating doctor to replace the deficiency by your pancreas. The causative agent is first treated. For instance, chronic pancreatitis needs to be treated properly to prevent progression of disease and occurrence of major complications like organ failure and more.

Chronic pancreatitis patients will require lifestyle changes in terms of their diet and daily activities. Other than that, they will require adequate pain management with the most suitable analgesics as their pain is usually severe and chronic in nature. Insulin deficiency can lead to raised blood glucose level, thus adequate amounts of insulin with proper routine follow ups. Sometimes, you will also be prescribed pancreatin, a supplement to complement the deficiency of pancreatic enzymes for digestive purposes.

Surgical approach like endoscopic resection or total pancreatomy is done to resect nonviable parts of pancreas to prevent further progression of necrosis and atrophy of the gland. You will be then given lifelong medications like insulin and enzymes to complement the loss to the pancreas. Therefore, in summary, if you have any chronic signs and symptoms like upper abdominal pain, loss of weight and appetite, and digestive problems, do meet a doctor to get yourself diagnosed and treated accordingly.