In the majority of cases, acute pancreatitis is caused by gallstones or by drinking too much alcohol, but these aren't the only causes of acute pancreatitis. If alcohol use and gallstones aren't to blame, other possible causes should be carefully examined so appropriate treatment -- if available -- can begin. Other, less common, causes of acute pancreatitis can include:
- Trauma to the pancreas
- Certain medications (such as corticosteroids, azathioprine, some diuretics, 5-aminosalicylic acid, estrogen, and valproic acid)
- Congenital conditions such as pancreas divisum
- Hereditary conditions
- High fat levels in the blood (hyperlipidemia or hypertriglyceridemia)
- High levels of calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia)
- Cystic fibrosis complications
- Viral infections (such as mumps)
- Pancreatic or bile duct surgery
- Electrolyte problems.
In about 15 percent of cases, the cause is not known.
Acute pancreatitis usually begins with pain in the upper abdomen that may last for a few days. The pain may be severe and may become constant -- just in the abdomen -- or it may reach to the back and other areas. It may be sudden and intense or begin as a mild pain that gets worse when food is eaten. Someone with acute pancreatitis symptoms often looks and feels very sick.
Other symptoms of acute pancreatitis may include:
- Swollen and tender abdomen
- Rapid pulse.
(Click Acute Pancreatitis Symptoms for more information.)