What is pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. It may be caused by a number of factors, including gallstones, alcohol, certain medications, a serious viral or bacterial infection, trauma to the abdomen, high triglyceride levels, or high blood calcium levels.

There are two types of pancreatitis:

Acute pancreatitis is a short-term, sudden inflammation which usually resolves with intensive treatment. It can be a severe, life-threatening condition. There are about 80,000 cases each year in the US, of which 20% are severe. Acute pancreatitis occurs more frequently in men than women, and may be caused by gallstones.

Chronic pancreatitis is a disease process that occurs over a longer period of time, and which does not resolve itself without treatment. It can slowly destroy the pancreas, causing, in severe cases bleeding, infection and tissue damage, as well as pseudocysts ñ fluid accumulation and tissue debris. In acute pancreatitis, enzymes and toxins can flood the bloodstream, causing injury to major organs including lungs, kidneys, and heart. Chronic pancreatitis may occur if acute pancreatitis is not resolved.

Pancreatitis refers to inflammation of the pancreas that occurs when pancreatic enzyme secretions build up and begin to digest the organ itself. It can occur as acute, painful attacks that are temporary, or may be a chronic condition developing over a period of years. Chronic pancreatitis occurs most often in individuals who have experienced pancreatic damage from earlier episodes of acute pancreatitis.
Sanjay Krishnan
Sanjay Krishnan on behalf of MDLIVE

Pancreatitis simply is inflammation or itis (from Latin) of the pancreas. The pancreas as various enzymes that are secreted into the duodenum for digesting our food. The stimulant for the secretion of those enzymes is the presence of food. When you have inflammation of the pancreas, it causes pain in the abdomen usual around your belly button area, associated with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, being flushed, lack of appetite, and in significant cases that are more chronic, weight loss. In about one third of people with pancreatitis, alcohol is the cause. In another third of people, the cause is gallstones that block ducts from pancreas that release digestive enzymes, thereby causing the inflammation. In another 20% of people, medications are the offending factor such as thiazide diuretics. Finally in 10% of people, it is what we call idiopathic which means, no cause can be isolated or determined.

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas -- an organ whose function is to release certain hormones and help with digestion. Cysts on the pancreas are a complication of chronic pancreatitis, meaning there is long-term inflammation. This inflammation causes irreversible scarring of the pancreas, inhibiting its production of enzymes to digest food. The treatment for chronic pancreatitis is pain medication and rest. Abstaining from solid food gives the pancreas a break from producing the enzymes needed for absorption, which can help relieve severe episodes of pain. In some cases, surgery is required to remove the pancreatic cysts or to remove dead pancreatic tissue.
The pancreas is an organ in your abdomen that makes hormones and enzymes that help break down your food. The term "pancreatitis" refers to a condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed or swollen, typically causing severe belly pain. Pancreatitis has many causes, but the most common ones include gallstones and heavy alcohol ingestion. Other factors that can lead to pancreatitis include infections, medications, inherited conditions and trauma. Most of the time, acute attacks of pancreatitis resolve after a short period of conservative treatment (i.e. pain management and bowel rest) without long-term side effects. Occasionally, pancreatitis can be much more severe and require intensive medical care.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.