Definition & Facts for Pancreatitis

What is pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is a large gland behind the stomach, close to the first part of the small intestine, called the duodenum. The pancreas has two main functions—to make insulin and to make digestive juices, or enzymes, to help you digest food. These enzymes digest food in the intestine. Pancreatitis occurs when the enzymes damage the pancreas, which causes inflammation. Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic. Either form is serious and can lead to complications.

Illustration of anatomy of the liver, gallbladder, cystic duct, common hepatic duct, common bile duct, pancreas, and small intestine. The inset shows the liver, bile ducts, gallbladder, pancreas, and small intestine.
The pancreas makes digestive juices, or enzymes, to help you digest food.

Acute pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis occurs suddenly and is a short-term condition. Most people with acute pancreatitis get better, and it goes away in several days with treatment. Some people can have a more severe form of acute pancreatitis, which requires a lengthy hospital stay.

Chronic pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis is a long-lasting condition. The pancreas does not heal or improve. Instead, it gets worse over time, which can lead to lasting damage to your pancreas.

How common is pancreatitis?

Acute pancreatitis has becoming more common, for reasons that are not clear. Each year, about 275,000 hospital stays for acute pancreatitis occur in the United States.1 Although pancreatitis is rare in children, the number of children with acute pancreatitis has grown.

Chronic pancreatitis is less common, with about 86,000 hospital stays per year.2

Who is more likely to get pancreatitis?

Certain groups of people are more likely to get acute or chronic pancreatitis than others:

  • Men are more likely to get pancreatitis than women.1
  • African Americans have a higher risk of getting pancreatitis.3
  • People with a family history of pancreatitis have a higher risk.
  • People with a personal or family history of gallstones also have a higher risk.

People with certain health conditions

You are more likely to get pancreatitis if you have one of the following health conditions:

People with other health concerns

You are also more likely to get pancreatitis if you

  • have obesity
  • are a heavy alcohol user
  • are a smoker

What are the complications of pancreatitis?

Both acute and chronic pancreatitis can lead to complications that include

Acute pancreatitis

Repeat episodes of acute pancreatitis may lead to chronic pancreatitis. Other complications of acute pancreatitis include

Chronic pancreatitis

Complications of chronic pancreatitis include

References

November 2017
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.

The NIDDK would like to thank:
Christopher E. Forsmark, M.D., University of Florida College of Medicine