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Pancreatitis - Cause

Normally, the structure of the pancreas camera.gif and the pancreatic duct prevent digestive enzymes from damaging the pancreas. But certain conditions can develop that cause damage and pancreatitis.

Acute pancreatitis

Most attacks of pancreatitis are caused by gallstones camera.gif that block the flow of pancreatic enzymes or by excessive amounts of alcohol. Sudden (acute) pancreatitis may happen after a drinking binge or after many episodes of heavy drinking.

Other causes of acute pancreatitis are:

Sometimes the cause is not known.

Chronic pancreatitis

Excessive alcohol use is the most common cause of ongoing pancreatitis (chronic pancreatitis).1

Other causes of chronic pancreatitis include cystic fibrosis or a blockage in the pancreas. Chronic pancreatitis may run in families. And smoking cigarettes seems to increase the risk for this disease. In about 1 out of 4 cases, doctors aren't sure what causes it.2

Experts don't know how alcohol irritates the pancreas. Most believe that alcohol either causes enzymes to back up into the pancreas or changes the chemistry of the enzymes, causing them to inflame the pancreas.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: May 24, 2013
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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