What happens in pancreatitis

Pancreatitis occurs when digestive enzymes produced in your pancreas become activated while inside the pancreas, causing damage to the organ.

During normal digestion, the inactivated pancreatic enzymes move through ducts in your pancreas and travel to the small intestine, where the enzymes become activated and help with digestion. In pancreatitis, the enzymes become activated while still in the pancreas. This causes the enzymes to irritate the cells of your pancreas, causing inflammation and the signs and symptoms associated with pancreatitis.

With repeated bouts of acute pancreatitis, damage to the pancreas can occur and lead to chronic pancreatitis. Scar tissue may form in the pancreas, causing loss of function. A poorly functioning pancreas can cause digestion problems and diabetes.

Pancreatitis has many causes

A number of causes have been identified for acute pancreatitis and chronic pancreatitis, including:

  • Alcoholism
  • Gallstones
  • Abdominal surgery
  • Certain medications
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), when used to treat gallstones
  • Family history of pancreatitis
  • High calcium levels in the blood (hypercalcemia), which may be caused by an overactive parathyroid gland (hyperparathyroidism)
  • High triglyceride levels in the blood (hypertriglyceridemia)
  • Infection
  • Injury to the abdomen
  • Pancreatic cancer
Sep. 07, 2013