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What Causes Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is a painful condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed. This inflammation occurs when the enzymes produced in the pancreas are activated inside the pancreas rather than the small intestine. This condition can come on suddenly or last for many years, depending on a variety of factors. Common symptoms include abdominal and back pain, nausea and vomiting. When the condition lasts for a long period of time it can lead to diabetes and pancreatic cancer. Pancreatitis has many different causes.

What causes pancreatitis?
The vast majority (80%) of pancreatitis is caused by gallstones or alcohol. Gallstones are responsible for most of the sudden onset cases of the condition and alcohol is the most common cause of long term pancreatitis. There is also a genetic condition that causes the trypsinogen (the inactivated form of the enzyme trypsin) to activate within the pancreas.

Other relatively common causes include; some medications such as AIDS drugs, steroid use, injury to the pancreas, mumps, high levels of calcium or triglycerides in the blood, autoimmune disease, malformation of the pancreas (pancreatic divisum), hypothermia and scorpion stings. A patient who undergoes a surgical procedure called Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) also has a 5% risk of developing pancreatitis.

The less common causes of pancreatitis include; pancreatic cancer, duct stones, inflammation of the blood vessels of the pancreas (vasculitis) and porphyria.

How is pancreatitis treated?
The treatment for pancreatitis depends on the cause of the condition. In most cases morphine is used for pain management. Oral intake is reduced or restricted and fluids are given intravenously. If gallstones are the problem they are removed surgically and antibiotics may be given if an infection is present.

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