Digestive System Home > Causes of Pancreatitis

The two most common pancreatitis causes are gallstones and alcoholism, but there are many more. Other causes include trauma to the pancreas, certain medications, congenital conditions, and hereditary conditions. In about 15 percent of acute cases of pancreatitis, the cause is unknown.

What Causes Pancreatitis?

Many different things can lead a person to develop pancreatitis. However, by far, the two most common causes of pancreatitis are gallstones and alcoholism.

Acute Pancreatitis Causes

In the majority of cases, acute pancreatitis is usually caused by gallstones or by drinking too much alcohol, but these aren't the only causes. Less common causes 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 acute pancreatitis cases, the cause is unknown.

Causes of Chronic Pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis is generally caused by anything that results in repeated episodes of acute pancreatitis. While common, alcoholism is not the only cause of chronic pancreatitis. The main causes of chronic pancreatitis are:
  • Alcoholism
  • Blocked or narrowed pancreatic duct (due to trauma or the formation of pseudocysts)
  • Heredity
  • Unknown cause (idiopathic).
Other less common causes include:
  • Congenital conditions (such as pancreas divisum)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • High levels of calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia)
  • High levels of blood fats (hyperlipidemia or hypertriglyceridemia)
  • Some drugs
  • Certain autoimmune conditions.
(Click Acute Pancreatitis or Causes of Chronic Pancreatitis for more information.)
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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