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Pancreatitis: Symptoms and Risk Factors

Pancreatitis is a condition of inflammation in the pancreas, an organ in the abdomen that produces hormones and digestive enzymes. Normally, digestive enzymes are produced in the pancreas and released into the intestine after meals. In cases of pancreatitis, these enzymes become inappropriately activated within the pancreas, resulting in digestion and damage of the pancreas itself.

More than half of cases are due to alcohol intake. Gallstones are another common cause. Less common contributors include trauma, certain medications (e.g., azathioprine, ACE inhibitors, valproic acid, diuretics, and steroids), and mumps infection.

The severity of pancreatitis varies from mild to life–threatening. Most cases require hospitalization.


  • Steady, severe upper abdominal pain that generally follows a large meal or alcohol intake. The pain often persists for hours, radiates to the back, and may be relieved by leaning forward.
  • Abdominal distention
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Fever
  • Tachycardia (abnormally rapid beating of the heart)
  • Sweating
  • Jaundice (yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes)

Risk Factors

  • Race: African–Americans have an increased risk. The risk among African–Americans aged 35 to 64 is 10 times greater than for any other demographic group. Whether the increased incidence is related to genetics is unclear.
  • Alcohol use: About 10 percent of chronic alcoholics will develop acute pancreatitis and 70 to 80 percent of heavy alcohol users will develop chronic pancreatitis.
  • Gender: Acute pancreatitis due to gallstones is more common in women, reflecting the greater prevalence of gallstones in women.
  • Elevated triglyceride levels


Pancreatitis: Diagnosis and Treatment >>