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Pancreatitis (cont.)

What are the causes of pancreatitis?

Alcohol abuse and gallstones are the two main causes of pancreatitis, accounting for 80% to 90% of all individuals diagnosed with pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis from alcohol use usually occurs in individuals who have been long-term alcohol drinkers for at least five to seven years. Most cases of chronic pancreatitis are due to alcohol abuse. Pancreatitis is often already chronic by the first time the person seeks medical attention (usually for severe pain).

Gallstones form from a buildup of material within the gallbladder, another organ in the abdomen (please see previous illustration). A gallstone can block the pancreatic duct, trapping digestive juices inside the pancreas. Pancreatitis due to gallstones tends to occur most often in women older than 50 years of age.

The remaining 10% to 20% of cases of pancreatitis have various causes, including the following:

  • medications,
  • exposure to certain chemicals,
  • injury (trauma), as might happen in a car accident or bad fall leading to abdominal trauma,
  • hereditary disease,
  • surgery and certain medical procedures,
  • infections such as mumps (not common),
  • abnormalities of the pancreas or intestine, or
  • high fat levels in the blood.

In about 15% of cases of acute pancreatitis and 40% of cases of chronic pancreatitis, the cause is never known.

When should I contact a doctor if I think I may have pancreatitis?

In most cases, the pain and nausea associated with pancreatitis are severe enough that a person seeks medical attention from a health-care professional. Any of the following symptoms warrant immediate medical attention:

  • Inability to take medication or to drink and eat because of nausea or vomiting
  • Severe pain not relieved by nonprescription medications
  • Unexplained pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pain accompanied by fever or chills, persistent vomiting, feeling faint, weakness, or fatigue
  • Pain accompanied by presence of other medical conditions, including pregnancy

The health-care professional may tell the person to go to a hospital emergency department. If a person is unable to reach a health-care professional, or if a person's symptoms worsen after having being examined by a health-care professional, an immediate visit to an emergency department is necessary.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/17/2016

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Pancreatitis, Acute »

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.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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