Digestive System Home > Acute Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, can be acute (lasting for a short time) or chronic (long-term). In the majority of cases, acute pancreatitis is caused by gallstones or by drinking too much alcohol. Its symptoms can include pain in the abdomen, nausea, vomiting, and fever. Treatment for this condition depends on the severity of the attack. If no kidney or lung complications occur, it usually improves on its own.

What Is Acute Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. One type of pancreatitis is called acute pancreatitis (the other is known as chronic pancreatitis).
 
Acute pancreatitis occurs suddenly, lasts for a short period of time, and usually gets better.
Some people have more than one attack of acute pancreatitis and recover completely after each, but acute pancreatitis can be a severe, life-threatening illness with many complications.
 
About 80,000 cases occur in the United States each year; about 20 percent of them are severe. Acute pancreatitis occurs more often in men than women.
 

Understanding the Pancreas

The pancreas is a large gland behind the stomach and close to the duodenum, the upper part of the small intestine. The pancreas secretes digestive enzymes into the small intestine through a tube called the pancreatic duct. These enzymes help digest fats, proteins, and carbohydrates in food. The pancreas also releases the hormones insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream. These hormones help the body use the glucose it takes from food for energy. Normally, digestive enzymes do not become active until they reach the small intestine, where they begin digesting food. However, if these enzymes become active inside the pancreas, they start "digesting" the pancreas itself.
 
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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