Pancreatitis is a condition characterized by inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is a large organ behind the stomach that produces digestive enzymes and a number of hormones. There are two main types, acute pancreatitis and chronic pancreatitis. Signs and symptoms of pancreatitis include pain in the upper abdomen, nausea and vomiting. The pain often goes into the back and is usually severe. In acute pancreatitis a fever may occur and symptoms typically resolve in a few days. In chronic pancreatitis weight loss, fatty stool, and diarrhea may occur. Complications may include infection, bleeding, diabetes mellitus, or problems with other organs.
The two most common causes of acute pancreatitis are a gallstone blocking the common bile duct after the pancreatic duct has joined; and heavy alcohol use. Other causes include direct trauma, certain medications, infections such as mumps, and tumors. Chronic pancreatitis may develop as a result of acute pancreatitis. It is most commonly due to many years of heavy alcohol use. Other causes include high levels of blood fats, high blood calcium, some medications, and certain genetic disorders such as cystic fibrosis among others. Smoking increases the risk of both acute and chronic pancreatitis. Diagnosis of acute pancreatitis is based on a threefold increase in the blood of either amylase or lipase. In chronic pancreatitis these tests may be normal. Medical imaging such as ultrasound and CT scan may also be useful.
Acute pancreatitis is usually treated with intravenous fluids, pain medication, and sometimes antibiotics. Typically eating and drinking are disallowed, and a nasogastric tube is placed in the stomach. A procedure known as an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) may be done to examine the distal common bile duct and remove a gallstone if present. In those with gallstones the gallbladder is often also removed. In chronic pancreatitis, in addition to the above, temporary feeding through a nasogastric tube may be used to provide adequate nutrition. Long-term dietary changes and pancreatic enzyme replacement may be required. And occasionally surgery is done to remove parts of the pancreas.
Globally, in 2015 about 8.9 million cases of pancreatitis occurred. This resulted in 132,700 deaths, up from 83,000 deaths in 1990. Acute pancreatitis occurs in about 30 per 100,000 people a year. New cases of chronic pancreatitis develop in about 8 per 100,000 people a year and currently affect about 50 per 100,000 people in the United States. It is more common in men than women. Often chronic pancreatitis starts between the ages of 30 and 40 while it is rare in children. Acute pancreatitis was first described on autopsy in 1882 while chronic pancreatitis was first described in 1946.