The pancreas is a small gland located in the abdomen. Its functions include creating digestive enzymes and the hormones glucagon and insulin.
Pancreatitis occurs when this gland becomes inflamed; the enzymes that produce begin to act against it. The inflammation this causes results in weight loss, nausea, abdominal pain, oily stools, and diarrhea, among other things.
Acute vs. Chronic Pancreatitis
Pancreatitis may appear in either acute or chronic form. Acute pancreatitis comes on quickly. Although it can be fatal and has the potential for serious complications, it can usually be managed with treatment and resolved in the course of a few days. Chronic pancreatitis, on the other hand, is more difficult to treat and will continue to grow more serious over time.
General Pancreatitis Risks
It is important to understand the difference between the two types, because although the root cause is the same, potential risks are slightly different. For example, chronic pancreatitis is more common in the 30 to 40 year age group.
However, chronic alcoholism is a serious risk for both types of pancreatitis. Other joint risk factors include:
- Cigarette smoking
- Cystic fibrosis
- Birth defects
- Disorders of the pancreas (such as pancreas divisum)
Certain medications may increase the risk of pancreatitis as well—hormone replacements and antibiotics among them. Some medications may be more likely to incite acute versus chronic type.
Acute vs Chronic Risks
Choledocholithias is the presence of a gallstone. Having gallstones makes the development of acute pancreatitis much more likely—and is in fact one of the most common causes. As gallstones pass through the bile duct shared by the gallbladder and pancreas, they incite inflammation.
According to the American Family Physician, there are a number of other risk factors for acute pancreatitis. Other disorders that may heighten the risk include autoimmune disorders (such as lupus), or vascular disorders, like vasculitis in which the blood vessels become inflamed. Other risk factors include:
- Extremely high triglyceride levels
- Pancreatic tumors
- Injuries during surgery
- Abdominal injuries
Those risk factors more specific to chronic pancreatitis include chronic renal failure, hyperlipidemia, and excessive toxins in the body. Certain genetic mutations can also increase the risks of triggering chronic pancreatitis.