Pancreatitis Health Center

The pancreas is a glandular organ located in the abdomen. This organ creates digestive juices that contain necessary enzymes that aid in the digestion process. These enzymes combine with bile — a liquid produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder — to help break down and digest food. The pancreas also releases insulin and glucagon — two hormones that help to manage blood sugar levels — into the bloodstream.

Pancreatitis happens when the pancreas becomes inflamed. Typically, the pancreases releases digestive enzymes that do not become active until they reach the small intestine. However, when the pancreas is inflamed, the enzymes within it attack and damage the tissues which produce them.

Pancreatitis can be either acute (occuring suddnely) or chronic (long-term). Both forms are serious and can lead to complications such as bleeding, infection and permanent tissue damage.

When inflammation of the pancreas happens suddenly, it is called acute pancreatitis. This form of pancreatitis will usually resolve in a few days with proper treatment. Each year, about 210,000 people in the United States are admitted to hospitals with acute pancreatitis.

In chronic pancreatitis, the inflamed pancreas does not heal or improve. Instead, this condition is progressive and worsens over time, leading to permanent damage.

Both acute and chronic pancreatitis occur more often in men than in women. Pancreatitis is rare in children, although trauma to the pancreas and hereditary pancreatitis (passed down through family members) are two known causes of childhood pancreatitis. Children with cystic fibrosis, a progressive lung disease without a cure, may be at risk for developing pancreatitis.

Review Date: 
August 9, 2012
Last Updated:
June 2, 2014