What is acute pancreatitis?
Acute pancreatitis is an inflammation (irritation and swelling with presence of extra immune cells) of the pancreas. The pancreas is an elongated, tapered gland, located behind the stomach, that secretes digestive enzymes and the hormones insulin and glucagon. Pancreatitis is a condition associated with development of acute and sudden inflammation of the
pancreas. Experimental data show that during an attack of pancreatitis, pancreatic enzymes are released in the abdomen and cause inflammation by the damage from digestion of normal body structures, especially fat in the abdomen. In about 85% of patients, acute pancreatitis is a mild disease and is usually associated with a rapid recovery within a few days of onset of the illness.
The digestive enzymes (chemicals) that are made in the pancreas become activated and start to 'digest' parts of the pancreas. (They are normally only activated after they reach the duodenum). This leads to a range of chemical reactions that cause inflammation in the pancreas. How the above causes actually trigger this sequence of events is not clear.
In most cases, the inflammation is mild and settles within a week or so. Symptoms may be bad for a few days but then settle and the pancreas fully recovers. In some cases the inflammation quickly becomes severe. Parts of the pancreas and surrounding tissues may die (necrose). Pancreatic enzymes and chemicals may get into the bloodstream and cause inflammation and damage to other organs in the body. This can lead to shock, respiratory failure, kidney failure and other complications. This is a very serious situation which can be fatal.