Gallstones are the most common cause of acute pancreatitis. Gallstones are small, solid masses that form from bile. The pancreas and gallbladder share a bile duct, through which bile and other digestive enzymes pass during digestion. Gallstones can create inflammation in both the bile duct and the pancreas. Alcoholism can also contribute to acute pancreatitis.
Chronic pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that occurs repeatedly. Patients with chronic pancreatitis can have permanent damage to their pancreas. Scar tissue develops from long-term inflammation. Extensive scar tissue may cause your pancreas to stop making the normal amount of digestive enzymes. As a result, you’re likely to have trouble digesting fats.
Alcohol abuse is the most common cause of chronic pancreatitis in adults. Autoimmune and genetic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, can also cause chronic pancreatitis in some patients.
Most people who have acute or chronic pancreatitis experience upper abdominal pain as their primary symptom. Some of those who have chronic pancreatitis may show inflammation on imaging scans, but otherwise may show no symptoms.
Other symptoms of pancreatitis may include:
- pain that wraps around the upper body and involves the back in a band-like pattern
- nausea or vomiting
- abdominal tenderness
- unintentional weight loss
- bloating with a distended (swollen) stomach
Pain associated with pancreatitis may last from a few minutes to several hours at a time. In severe cases, discomfort from chronic pancreatitis could become constant. Your pain is likely to increase after you eat or when you’re lying down. Try sitting up or leaning forward to make yourself more comfortable.