Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas, a large gland located behind the stomach. The pancreas secretes enzymes used in digestion, as well as the hormones insulin and glucagon. The inflammation occurs when digestion enzymes activate while still inside the pancreas and begin to attack the surrounding tissue.
There are two types of pancreatitis, acute and chronic, and both occur more often in men than in women. Acute pancreatitis occurs suddenly and usually can be resolved with a few days treatment. About 210,000 people in the United States are admitted to the hospital with acute pancreatitis each year. A common cause is gallstones, which are stone-like substances made of hardened bile. When they pass from the gallbladder to the bile duct, the pancreas can become inflamed. Heavy alcohol use is also a trigger for acute pancreatitis.
In contrast, inflammation caused by chronic pancreatitis does not improve. Instead, it gets worse over time and eventually leads to permanent damage. Chronic pancreatitis normally develops in people between the ages of 30 and 40, and heavy alcohol use is the most common cause. However, chronic pancreatitis can also be hereditary.
In the advanced stages of chronic pancreatitis, the risk of developing diabetes increases dramatically due to the damage of the pancreas’ insulin-producing cells.