Acute and Chronic Pancreatitis


Dr. Mansfield
Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. It can be acute, meaning short-term, or chronic, which means long-lasting. Dr. Patel, can you tell us more about acute and chronic pancreatitis?

Dr. Patel
Sure, Dr. Mansfield. Normally, digestive enzymes secreted by the pancreas do not become active until they reach the small intestine. When the pancreas is inflamed, however, the enzymes inside of it attack and damage the tissues that produce them.

Acute pancreatitis is inflammation that occurs suddenly. Although it usually resolves in a few days with treatment, it can be a life-threatening illness with severe complications if immediate medical attention is not sought. The most common causes of acute pancreatitis are gallstones and excessive alcohol consumption. Other causes include:

  • Smoking
  • High triglyceride levels
  • High calcium levels
  • Certain medications
  • Abdominal trauma
  • Viral infections
  • Tumors, and
  • Genetic abnormalities of the pancreas

Chronic pancreatitis occurs when ongoing inflammation of the pancreas causes irreversible scar tissue to form. Chronic pancreatitis can lead to impaired digestion and diabetes. The most common causes of chronic pancreatitis are excessive alcohol consumption, heavy smoking, and recurrent episodes of acute pancreatitis. In many patients, the cause of chronic pancreatitis is unknown.