Overview of Causes Of Pancreatitis
Pancreas is a long gland located in the upper abdomen and is responsible for production of insulin, and secretion of digestive enzymes, leading to fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism.
There are many causes of pancreatitis, but the most common ones are alcoholism and gallbladder disease. Excessive use of alcohol over many years can cause acute attack of pancreatitis. It is not yet clear how the alcohol damages pancreas, but one theory suggests that the alcohol leads to protein plugs-precursors to small stones, and block the parts of pancreatic duct. Alcohol also injures the pancreatic tissues. Alcoholic pancreatitis mainly occurs in patients who have been consuming alcohol for at least 5-6 years.
Other Causes Of Pancreatitis
Gallstones are another leading cause of pancreatitis, and they block the pancreatic duct, resulting in trapped digestive juices in the pancreas. Chronic pancreatitis is caused when digestive enzymes attack and destroy the pancreas and the surrounding tissues. The digestive enzymes become active in the pancreas, and start digesting the healthy tissue.
The risk of the stone that causes pancreatitis is inversely proportional to its size. Gallstones usually need surgical removal, depending upon the severity of the pancreatitis. After removal of gallstones, the inflammation goes away and pancreas function returns to normal. Pancreatitis due to gallstones is more common in the women over the age of 50 years.
Other conditions leading to acute pancreatitis are calcium deposits or stones blocking pancreatic or common bile duct. Trauma, or certain drugs such as chlorothiazide, sulfonamides, azathioprine, acetaminophen and hormonal contraceptives may also cause it. Other factors that can contribute to or be the cause of pancreatitis include increase in blood levels calcium or trygylcerides, abdomen surgery, bacterial infections, viral infections including hepatitis, mumps and Epstein-Barr virus, gene abnormalities, structural abnormalities of pancreas or common bile duct, pancreatic cancer, and some inherited diseases.
Hereditary pancreatitis starts in the childhood, but may be diagnosed many years later. If two or more members of the family in more than one generation have pancreatitis, it can be the determining factor. Many medications have also been known as cause of pancreatitis, and some of these include estrogen, azathioprine, chemotherapeutic, and furosemide.
In very few cases, the cause of pancreatitis is not known. However, most of such cases are mainly due to very small gallstones or gallstone sludge that just passes through the bile duct, and is usually too tiny to be seen on scans.
Acute pancreatitis is a life threatening disease, and can lead to many complications. 20% of the cases of pancreatitis are severe, and is more common among men than women.