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The Different Types of Pancreatitis and Their Subtypes

Acute pancreatitis

Story at-a-glance -

  • There are two main types of pancreatitis: acute pancreatitis and chronic pancreatitis
  • Always consult with your doctor to learn the possible side effects and discuss healthy alternatives before taking any medication

There are two main types of pancreatitis: acute pancreatitis and chronic pancreatitis. The information below will help you distinguish their similarities and differences.

Acute Pancreatitis Can Occur Unexpectedly

The onset of acute pancreatitis can be very sudden. Abdominal pain may be mild, or it may be so severe that you need hospitalization right away. Defining symptoms of this condition include:1




Loss of appetite

Coughing, movement and breathing may be painful

Tender abdomen



The most common cause of acute pancreatitis is gallstones blocking the pancreatic duct that leads to your small intestine.2 Gallstones are hardened materials that typically form from excess cholesterol. In fact, 80 percent of gallstone cases come from cholesterol.3

The remaining percentage usually comes from excess bilirubin and concentrated bile. Bilirubin is a chemical byproduct of your liver that destroys old red blood cells, which form into stones when there is an excess of it.

Bile on the other hand, may form stones if the gallbladder fails to empty properly and the bile becomes concentrated in one location.4

Treatment for acute pancreatitis depends on the severity. If it is mild, it may go away on its own through healthy dietary and lifestyle practices.5 But for severe cases, you may need to undergo surgery. For example, necrotizing pancreatitis, a severe type of acute pancreatitis, surgery may be needed to remove the infected tissue. If an abscess has formed, it will need to be drained as well.6

Chronic Pancreatitis May Get Worse Over Time

When your pancreas becomes inflamed repeatedly, it is referred to as chronic pancreatitis. The condition may get worse over time, and may eventually impair your ability to digest food and produce pancreatic enzymes. Chronic pancreatitis typically develops between the ages of 30 and 40 years old, and is more common among men than women.7

Symptoms of this condition are often very similar to acute pancreatitis, which may include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, unintentional weight loss and oily or fatty stools.8 The cause of chronic pancreatitis is largely attributed to alcoholism, which is actually responsible for 75 percent of recorded cases in the U.S.9

Treatment requires different approaches, such as dietary and lifestyle changes. These include avoiding alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking, while increasing the intake of organic fruits and vegetables and grass-fed meats, which may help lower your chances of inflammation. Surgery may be considered as well, especially if pancreatic tissue has become infected.

Autoimmune Pancreatitis: A Special Subtype of Chronic Pancreatitis

As the name implies, the cause of autoimmune pancreatitis (AIP) is an autoimmune inflammation that targets your pancreas. Although it is a subtype of chronic pancreatitis, AIP can be further classified into two subtypes, type 1 and type 2.10

The first type, also called IgG4-related pancreatitis, affects your pancreas plus several other organs, such as the liver, kidneys, lymph nodes and salivary glands. The second type only affects the pancreas, though a small group has reported to have experienced inflammatory bowel disease as well. Not surprisingly, the symptoms of AIP are practically the same as chronic pancreatitis. These include jaundice, weight loss and abdominal pain.11

Due to the unique nature of the disease, certain medications may be needed to treat your condition, aside from a healthy diet and regular exercise. If your pancreas has been producing insufficient amounts of enzymes, your doctor may also advise taking enzyme supplements to compensate.12

Before taking any medication, though, always consult with your doctor to learn the possible side effects and discuss healthy alternatives.


Pancreatitis: Introduction

What Is Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis Types

Pancreatitis Causes

Pancreatitis Symptoms

Pancreatitis Treatment

Pancreatitis Prevention

Pancreatitis Diet

Pancreatitis FAQ

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