Most cases of pancreatitis are linked to alcohol consumption and the accumulation of gallstones in the pancreatic duct. Medication, abdominal trauma or an illness may cause pancreatic inflammation as well. Below are the most common identified causes of pancreatitis.
If It's Your First Time Experiencing Pancreatitis, Gallstones May Be the Most Probable Cause
If you've never experienced any symptom of pancreatitis before, one of the first things doctors will suspect is the accumulation of gallstones in your pancreatic duct. There are three types of gallstones according to the material they're made from:1
• Cholesterol: Excess cholesterol solidifies into stones when the liver produces more cholesterol than your bile can digest.
• Bilirubin: A chemical byproduct created when your liver destroys old red blood cells, bilirubin accumulates and causes stones to form when your gallbladder cannot break down excessive amounts of it.
• Bile: When your gallbladder fails to empty the stored bile, it may become overly concentrated and form stones.
Risk factors for gallstones include obesity, a high-cholesterol diet and a family history of gallstones. If you're trying to induce rapid weight loss through a crash diet, you're also at risk since your liver will produce higher amounts of cholesterol than usual.2
The Next Top Cause Is Alcohol Abuse
Apart from gallstones, alcoholism is one of the top causes of pancreatitis, and actually accounts for 75 percent of all cases of chronic pancreatitis in the U.S. Doctors are not certain how alcohol affects your pancreas, but one theory is that alcohol interferes with the pancreatic cells' ability to function correctly.3
Acute pancreatitis may develop after a night of binge drinking, especially if you’re an alcoholic. By then, your pancreas may have already suffered permanent damage. Abdominal pain and fatty stool are also common indicators of alcohol-induced pancreatitis. Weight loss may also occur since food intake may exacerbate the pain, thus forcing you to eat smaller amounts.4
Your Immune System May Turn Against You and Cause Pancreatitis
Your immune system is responsible for protecting your body from pathogens that can make you sick. But in some cases, it may develop a complication that attacks your body instead. In the case of autoimmune pancreatitis, there are two types:5
• Type 1: Aside from the pancreas, other internal organs such as the liver, bile ducts, kidneys and lymph nodes are attacked by your immune system.
• Type 2: Only the pancreas is affected, but you may experience inflammatory bowel disease as well.
Where You Live May Play a Role in Your Risk for Pancreatitis
If you live in a tropical country, there’s a chance that you may develop tropical pancreatitis. It typically occurs among young people, and it generally affects the main pancreatic duct due to calcification.
The exact cause of tropical pancreatitis is not known, but it is believed that a mutation in the SPINK1 gene and environmental factors contribute to the condition. Ninety percent of tropical pancreatitis cases exhibit abdominal pain, and there's a chance you may develop diabetes as well.6
In Some Instances, Doctors Cannot Determine the Cause
Even with all the recent advances in medical technology, pancreatic inflammation may sometimes have no apparent cause, which is a condition called idiopathic pancreatitis. It's a subtype of chronic pancreatitis that affects around 10 to 30 percent of all known chronic pancreatitis cases.7
Idiopathic pancreatitis may develop in your early childhood, manifesting as severe abdominal pain. If the condition appears in late adulthood, the pain is usually minimal coupled with insufficient production of pancreatic enzymes.8