What Are The Most Common Causes of Acute Pancreatitis

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Acute Pancreatitis

Written By Tony Subia
January 2022

Exocrine Acute Pancreatitis

Sometimes referred to as “exocrine acute pancreatitis“, acute pancreatitis can be described as a severe inflammation of pancreas that brings intense pain. Acute pancreatitis can strike suddenly, particularly after eating a meal. Since the pancreas is sandwiched between the back of the stomach and the spine, the intense pain will come from the mid-abdomen stomach area and the pain will usually radiate to the back.

Although acute pancreatitis can recur, most of the time it is a single occurrence depending upon the original cause. It can become deadly with a mortality rate of up to 10% although most bouts can be controlled over a few days in the hospital with proper treatment. Acute Pancreatitis is very similar to Chronic Pancreatitis. Although both can be extremely painful, the Chronic version is most often recurring and can progressively reach a point of complete destruction of the pancreas.

What is Acute Pancreatitis?

Acute pancreatitis is a very painful inflammation of the pancreas. It occurs in the “Exocrine Portion” of the pancreas which produces digestive enzymes. When the enzymes are initially created, they remain in an “inactive” state while still in the pancreas. Remaining in their inactive state means they are incapable of digesting food until they enter the the small intestine via the pancreatic duct where they “activated” to begin the digestive process within the small intestine. The digestive process breaks-down food into the nutrients of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates which are transformed in sugar (glucose).
If the normal digestion process fails, the digestive enzymes can prematurely activate while still in the pancreas, or the activated enzymes that have entered the small intestine can push the fluids back into the pancreatic duct. Severe inflammation is caused when the prematurely activated enzymes actually begin to digest the pancreas itself. The malfunction of the normal process will cause “Acute Pancreatitis”. Sometimes just a limited amount of activated digestive enzymes remain the the small intestine and malnutrition ensues when only small portions of food are broken-down into nutrients. This malfunction can heighten the risk of becoming pancreatic cancer.
Illustration showing a typical inflammation in the pancreas refereed to as acute pancreatitis

The Main Causes of Acute Pancreatitis

The most common causes of acute pancreatitis is alcohol abuse, a diseased gallbladder, gallstones getting stuck in the common bile duct and a malfunction that causes activated digestive enzymes to “back flow” bile back into
the pancreatic duct.

Other Causes of Acute Pancreatitis

There are many possible causes of acute pancreatitis. Heavy abuse of alcohol would be a top consideration. Others wold include high triglyceride levels in the blood, high levels of calcium in the blood, obesity, smoking, blockage of the bile duct, infections, trauma to the pancreas, genetic disorders of the pancreas, hormonal disorders, and a side effect of medications. A family history of acute pancreatitis could make it hereditary. Although rare, a person’s own immune system will attack the pancreas.

Acute Pancreatitis Symptoms

Early symptoms of acute pancreatitis could begin with a gradually progressing intensity of pain in the abdomen area of the stomach, particularly when the pain radiates to the back would likely be a sign and symptom of acute pancreatitis. The pain could be mild at early stages while progressively becoming worse, particularly after eating.

A loss of weight without trying could indicate the pancreas is not producing enough digestive enzymes. If your stool shows an unusual amount of partly digested food would be an early warning sign. Nausea, especially when accompanied with vomiting and oily and smelly stool (steatorrhea) can also be a symptoms of acute pancreatitis. If symptoms and pain persist, seek immediate medical intervention.

Acute pancreatitis is considered a serious and deadly disease and generally requires immediate medical intervention with hospital admission to confirm an acute pancreatitis diagnosis. If confirmed, vitally necessary treatments could begin immediately. Studies show there is a link between acute pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. It must be detected as early as possible when it is most treatable.

Acute Pancreatitis Risk Factors

Among the risk factors of acute pancreatitis is increasing age and abuse of alcoholic beverages. Some studies show that Type 2 Diabetes and Celiac Disease can increase the risk of acute pancreatitis 3-fold versus the general population. Obesity not only is considered a risk factor but being significantly overweight could increase the severity of intense pain and symptoms.

Diet Considerations For those with Acute or Chronic Pancreatitis

Patients with pancreatitis should adapt diets that are rich in proteins, low in animal fats and low fat dairy alternatives. Focus on nutrient-dense diets that include fruits, vegetables, lean meats, beans, lentils, clear soups, whole wheat grains, and foods that contain antioxidants. Those foods are easier to digest. Try eating smaller portions while going through the healing process.

Management, Treatment, and Pain Control of Acute Pancreatitis

This article discusses Acute Pancreatitis and its primary causes and acute pancreatitis risk factor, symptoms suggested diets that minimize pain. It features educational videos which covers the topics surrounding acute pancreatitis. All information on this page and the entire website is provided for educational reasons and is not intended to provide medical advice. We do not guarantee the accuracy of such educational information. When visiting this website you agree to its terms and conditions of use. The Seena Magowitz Foundation encourages its reader to always consult with your medical providers for professional medical advice.
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