Medical Specialties: Family practice, Gastroenterology, Internal medicine

Clinical Definition

Pancreatitis is an inflammatory process of the pancreas. The pancreas secretes digestive enzymes, which normally don’t become active until they reach the small intestines. When pancreatitis develops, enzymes prematurely activate in the pancreas and attack it. This causes pancreatic tissue damage and bleeding. 

In Our Own Words

Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, is either acute or chronic. Acute pancreatitis can lead to more chronic, recurring bouts.


The pancreas is an organ near the stomach that makes digestive juices and insulin. Inflammation in the pancreas and obstruction of its ducts is a special problem: The digestive juices made by the pancreas normally travel to the gut to become active, but in pancreatitis, they activate too early and begin digesting the pancreas itself. This can cause bleeding, infection or permanent damage to the organ.


Common causes or contributing factors in chronic pancreatitis include alcohol consumption, smoking and genetics. Most attacks of acute pancreatitis are mild and resolve in about one week, but severe forms pancreatitis can cause complications and even death.

Relevant Conditions
  • Alcoholism
  • Pancreatic duct obstruction
  • Post-surgical complications
Common Types
  • Acute
  • Chronic
  • Gallstone pancreatitis
Side Effects
  • Abdominal pain, which can radiate to the back
  • Fever
  • Poor food absorption, oily stools
  • Weight loss
Share this article
  • National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. “Pancreatitis.” Accessed September 013.
  • University of Maryland Medical Center. “Pancreatitis.” Updated June 2013. Accessed September 2013.
  • Cleveland Clinic. “Pancreatitis.” Accessed September 2013.
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