The Pancreas and Pancreatitis

The pancreas a large gland that lies behind the stomach and next to the the first section of the small intestine called the duodenum. The pancreas has two primary functions:

  • To aid the digestion of carbohydrates, proteins, and fat by secreting a powerful digestive enzymes into the small intestine.
  • To regulate the bodies blood glucose metabolism, ( regulating how the body stores and uses food for energy) by releasing the hormones insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream


Pancreatitis is a disease in which the pancreas becomes inflamed. Pancreatic damage occurs when the digestive enzymes are activated before they are secreted into the duodenum and begin attacking the pancreas.

There are two forms of pancreatitis: acute and chronic.

  • Acute pancreatitis

    Acute pancreatitis is a sudden inflammation of the pancreas that occurs over a short period of time. In the majority of cases, acute pancreatitis is caused by heavy alcohol use or gallstones. Other causes include medications, infections, trauma, metabolic disorders, and surgery. In up to 30% of people with acute pancreatitis, the cause is unknown. However, the majority of people with acute pancreatitis recover completely after receiving the appropriate treatment. Severe cases, acute pancreatitis can cause bleeding into the gland, serious tissue damage, infection, and cyst formation and can create conditions which can harm other vital organs such as the heart, lungs, and kidneys.

  • Chronic pancreatitis

    Chronic pancreatitis occurs mostly after an episode of acute pancreatitis and is the result of ongoing pancreas inflammation. About 45% of people who develop chronic pancreatitis is due to prolonged alcohol use. Other causes chronic pancreatitis include gallstones, hereditary disorders of the pancreas, cystic fibrosis, high triglycerides, and certain medicines. Pancreas damage due to excessive alcohol use may not show symptoms for many years, but then the person may suddenly develop severe pancreatitis symptoms, including severe pain and loss of pancreatic function, resulting in digestion and blood sugar abnormalities.