By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
The majority of pancreatitis cases are caused by gall stones or alcohol consumption. While gall stones generally cause acute pancreatitis, alcohol consumption is the most common cause of chronic pancreatitis.
Some of the main causes of pancreatitis are described below:
- Gallstones can cause acute pancreatitis to develop if they move out of the pancreas and block the organ’s opening. This can disrupt the usual function of digestive enzymes in the pancreas, which start to digest the pancreas instead of helping to digest food.
- How alcohol leads to chronic pancreatitis is not fully understood but it has been suggested that enzymes start to digest the pancreas due to interruption of normal pancreatic function. Drinking a lot of alcohol over a short period or binge drinking is also thought to increase the risk of acute pancreatitis.
Other less common causes of acute pancreatitis include:
- The use of certain medications such as corticosteroids, the HIV drug didanosine, valproic acid, the chemotherapy agent azathioprine, and the anihyperglycemic drug metformin.
- Hypertriglyceridemia, although the serum trigylceride level needs to be higher than 1000 mg/dl for a person to be at risk.
- Trauma or accidental pancreatic injury incurred during a procedure called endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), which is used to remove gallstones or assess the pancreas.
- Viral infections such as mumps or measles.
- Diabetes increases the risk of pancreatitis developing by almost three times.
- A genetic mutation called MCP-1 mutation has also been identified as increasing the risk for severe acute pancreatitis by eight times compared with the general population.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Sep 10, 2014