The pancreas is a gland that is located above the small intestine and behind the lower stomach. In addition to producing insulin, which the body needs to process sugar, the pancreas also produces enzymes that are needed for digestion. Various diseases or injuries might cause fibroids, or abnormal tissue, to form in the pancreas. When the fibroids form in the tubes that transport the digestive enzymes to the intestine, this results in a condition known as pancreatic fibrosis.
Without the proper enzymes, nutrients from food cannot be absorbed properly. As a result, many patients who have pancreatic fibrosis are underweight, even if they eat well. The lack of proper nutrition can affect the body's ability to fight off infections and maintain consistent blood-sugar levels. Children who have pancreatic fibrosis might experience stunted growth, and they might not develop skills as quickly as healthy children.
One of the most common causes of pancreatic fibrosis, particularly in children, is cystic fibrosis. In patients who have cystic fibrosis of the pancreas, mucus clogs the ducts that carry digestive enzymes from the pancreas to the small intestines. These mucus plugs often harden into fibroids, although researchers do not agree on the precise reason for the alteration.
Among adults, many conditions can cause pancreatic fibrosis, but pancreatitis is the most common. Pancreatitis results when enzymes that normally do not become active until reaching the intestine become active while they still are inside the pancreas. The pancreas becomes irritated and inflamed, and scar tissue or fibroids might form. Alcohol consumption, gall bladder disease, elevated blood-calcium levels, certain thyroid conditions and infections are among the possible triggers for pancreatitis.
Fibroids in the pancreas also can appear after certain surgeries. Patients who have had surgical treatments for gallstones might have a higher risk, but it is possible for pancreatic fibroids to develop after any abdominal surgery. Abdominal injuries, such as those that might occur in an automobile accident, also can result in pancreatic fibrosis.
Symptoms of pancreatic fibrosis include unexplained weight loss, pain in the upper abdomen, indigestion and foul-smelling, oily stools. Some patients might also experience nausea or vomiting. Pain might become more severe after eating, or it might seem to be located in the back.
A doctor might order one or more tests before making a diagnosis of pancreatic fibrosis. Stool samples can be tested to check fat levels to determine whether nutrients are being absorbed properly. Blood tests might reveal that excess enzymes are being produced by the pancreas. Imaging techniques such as ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans are sometimes used to give a healthcare professional a non-surgical look at the pancreas.