Chronic pancreatitis is the most common cause of pancreatic atrophy, states the Medical Dictionary. Heavy and prolonged intake of alcohol is the most frequent cause of chronic pancreatitis, but some forms of pancreatitis are genetic in nature, notes Cleveland Clinic. Up to 30 percent of cases have no known cause.
It is not uncommon for elderly people to have pancreatic atrophy, notes Radiopaedia.org. It may also occur in obese individuals and in people who have developed pancreatic cancer. In cases where chronic pancreatitis is the cause of the pancreatic atrophy, patients normally experience numerous episodes of acute pancreatitis over a period of many years before chronic pancreatitis develops, according to the Medical Dictionary.
Pancreatic atrophy involves the wasting away of the pancreas, explains the Medical Dictionary. Inflammation is present as well, and this causes gradual changes in the gland's tissue. Fibrous tissue slowly replaces the normal pancreatic tissue, calcification or cysts may develop, and changes take place in the ducts. The damage causes a loss of endocrine and exocrine function.
Abdominal pain and indigestion are the primary symptoms, states the Medical Dictionary. The pain is dull or boring, and eating exacerbates it, indicates Cleveland Clinic. Treatment involves pain management, improvement of digestion and management of complications.