Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas and can be acute or chronic.
Acute PancreatitisAcute pancreatitis refers to inflammation of the pancreas that occurs suddenly and usually resolves with treatment of symptoms. However, it can be a life-threatening with severe complications. The most common cause of acute pancreatitis is the presence of gallstones that cause inflammation in the pancreas as they pass through the common bile duct. Chronic, heavy alcohol use can also result in acute pancreatitis. Other causes of acute pancreatitis include abdominal trauma, medications, infections, tumors and genetic abnormalities of the pancreas.
Acute pancreatitis usually begins with gradual or sudden pain in the upper abdomen that sometimes extends through the back. The pain may be mild at first and feel worse after eating. But it is often severe, may become constant and can last for several days. A person with acute pancreatitis usually looks and feels very ill and needs immediate medical attention. Other symptoms may include:
- Swollen and tender abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid pulse
Chronic PancreatitisChronic pancreatitis refers to inflammation of the pancreas that does not heal or improve. It often gets worse over time and can lead to permanent damage, such as diabetes. Chronic pancreatitis often develops between ages of 30-40.
The most common cause of chronic pancreatitis is many years of heavy alcohol use; however, it may result from genetic and autoimmune causes. The chronic form of pancreatitis can be triggered by one acute attack that damages the pancreatic duct. The damaged duct causes the pancreas to become inflamed. Scar tissue develops and the pancreas is slowly destroyed.
Hereditary pancreatitis can occur before age 30 but it might not be diagnosed for several years. A diagnosis of hereditary pancreatitis is likely if the person has two or more family members with pancreatitis in more than one generation.
Most people with chronic pancreatitis experience upper abdominal pain, although some people have no pain at all. The pain may spread to the back, feel worse when eating or drinking, and become constant and disabling. In some cases, abdominal pain goes away as the condition worsens, most likely because the pancreas is no longer making digestive enzymes. Other symptoms include:
- Weight loss
- Oily stools