What Is Pancreatitis?


Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas due to being attacked by enzymes or digestive juices. The pancreas is located behind the stomach on the upper-left side of the abdomen, near the first section of the small intestine (the duodenum). It is a long, flat gland that produces enzymes that are sent to the small intestine to aid in the digestive system. The pancreas also creates the hormones insulin and glucagon that help regulate how the body processes glucose. Damage to the pancreas may occur if the digestive enzymes begin working before being released by the pancreas.

Acute or chronic pancreatitis

Pancreatitis may be acute, appearing suddenly and lasting for a few days. However, it can also be chronic, which is ongoing for many years.

  • Acute pancreatitis pain can range from mild to severe. Most people completely recover with rest, hydration, and proper treatment. Severe cases of acute pancreatitis can lead to infection, bleeding, cysts, and serious harm to tissue. Damage to the kidneys, heart or lungs can also occur.
  • Chronic pancreatitis is long-lasting and progressive. It typically develops after several bouts of acute pancreatitis. Excessive, long-term use of alcohol can damage the pancreas, resulting in chronic pancreatitis. Pain is often sudden and severe. Chronic pancreatitis eventually results in permanent damage to the pancreas. The continual inflammation causes fibrosis of the pancreas, which then halts production of hormones and enzymes.


The most common symptom of pancreatitis is abdominal pain. Symptoms of acute or chronic pancreatitis may differ and include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Abdomen pain that radiates to the back
  • Fast and shallow breathing
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Fever
  • Abdomen tenderness when touched
  • Upper abdomen pain
  • Indigestion or pain after eating
  • Losing weight unintentionally
  • Loss of appetite
  • Oily and smelly stool
  • Upper abdomen pain
  • Lightheadedness due to low blood pressure
  • Jaundice


Pancreatitis is caused when digestive enzymes become activated while still in the pancreas. This results in pancreatic cells becoming irritated and inflamed. Sometimes, pancreatitis is idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown. Various conditions can cause pancreatitis, which include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Alcoholism
  • Gallstones
  • Medications
  • Hypertriglyceridemia (high triglyceride levels)
  • Abdominal surgery
  • Ischemia (reduced blood supply)
  • Infection
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Hypercalcemia (high calcium levels in the blood)
  • Abdomen injury
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Hyperparathyroidism (overactive parathyroid gland)
  • Obesity
  • Trauma
  • Procedure used to treat gallstones called an ERCP
  • Scorpion stings
  • Mumps
  • Steroids

Risk factors

Men are more likely to develop chronic pancreatitis, although acute pancreatitis affects men and women equally. Various factors increase the risk of pancreatitis, which include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Family history of pancreatitis
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Obesity
  • African American
  • Indigenous population
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Diabetes
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Autoimmune diseases
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