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Pancreatitis simply means inflammation of the pancreas. Located in the upper part of the abdomen, behind the stomach, the pancreas plays an important role in digestion. The pancreas is a gland, producing two main types of substances: digestive juices and digestive hormones.
Digestive juices include enzymes and bicarbonate. They travel through a small tube called the pancreatic duct that connects the pancreas to the small intestine to the small intestine (duodenum).
Inflammation of the pancreas has various causes. Once the gland becomes inflamed, the condition can progress to swelling of the gland and surrounding blood vessels, bleeding, infection, and damage to the gland. There, digestive juices become trapped and start "digesting" the pancreas itself. If this damage persists, the gland may not be able to carry out normal functions.
Pancreatitis may be acute (new, short-term) or chronic (ongoing, long-term). Either type can be very severe, even life-threatening. Either type can have serious complications.
About 80,000 cases of acute pancreatitis occur in the United States each year. Pancreatitis can occur in people of all ages, although it is very rare in children. Pancreatitis occurs in men and women, although chronic pancreatitis is more common in men than in women.
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The pancreas is a gland located in the upper, posterior abdomen and is responsible for insulin production (endocrine pancreas) and the manufacture and secretion of digestive enzymes (exocrine pancreas) leading to carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism.