Acute and chronic pancreatitis: the pancreas and its’ role in human digestion

Main task of this organ – production of pancreatic juice that contains enzymes and is rich in bicarbonate ions. Its’ main function is to take part in digestive processes in the small intestine.

Pancreatic juice neutralizes acidic gastric juice within the intestine, where digestive enzymes are activated and begin to serve their functions of breaking down and processing nutrients and other substances. It is also involved in regulation of the level of blood sugar.

Main digestive enzymes that pancreas produces are:

  • Amylase, which helps to process starch into sugars.
  • Lipase, an enzyme which processes fats.
  • Trypsin, chymotrypsin – enzymes that process proteins.
  • Insuline, polypeptide, glucagon and others.


Pancreatitis is a condition which is characterized by inflammation of the pancreas.

As a result of the inflammation, pancreatic enzymes are not evacuated into the duodenum but are activated in the pancreas itself, which leads to its destruction (self-digestion).

Enzymes and toxins that are produced because of that enter the bloodstream and can seriously damage other organs like brain, heart, kidneys and liver.

It’s very hard to diagnose chronic pancreatitis early. To do so, gastroenterologist should be aided by laboratory and instrumental testing.

Classification of the disorder by causes

Pancreatitis can be separated into two main types: acute and chronic.

Let’s look at the most common type, chronic pancreatitis.

Chronic pancreatitis develops due to tissue damage of the pancreas.

Main causes of destructive processes are as follows:

  • Alcohol abuse (from 40 to 70% of all cases, depending on the region), smoking.
  • Pancreatic damage due to injuries to the stomach, surgical interventions and certain diagnostic procedures. In particular, such damages can happen during endoscopic procedures (in particular, retrograde cholangiopancreatography and endoscopic papillosphincterotomy).
  • Long-term, uncontrolled intake of medicine, aggressive to the pancreas (certain groups of antibiotics (tetracyclines), estrogen-containing drugs, glucocorticosteroids, acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin), sulfonamides, certain diuretics, etc.).
  • Food and chemical poisonings.
  • Major consumption of foods with synthetic additives and/or treated with pesticides or other chemicals.
  • Genetic disposition to digestive system disorders, congenital developmental defects of the pancreas;
  • Non-balanced diet with an excess of fatty and spicy goods with long breaks between meals.

Pancreatitis is a serious disease that can lead to necrosis of a part (or even the whole) of the pancreas. This, in turn, is the cause of death for 40% to 70% of necrotizing pancreatitis patients.

Which is why it’s absolutely important to treat the condition timely.

Pancreatitis complications

Complications of acute pancreatitis or an exacerbation of its’ chronic form may develop quite fast, may cause significant damage to one’s health and even cause death.

With that in mind, even a non-exacerbated chronic form of pancreatitis could be dangerous. As cells and tissue get progressively damaged, pancreas loses its’ normal function.


Common pancreatitis co-morbidities are:

  • cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder). In turn, cholecystitis can also cause pancreatitis;
  • infections (often, complications involving pus, such as phlegmon or a pancreatic abscess);
  • intestinal bleeding;
  • pancreatic necrosis and peritonitis;

Main complications of chronic pancreatitis are:

  • diabetes mellitus, which develops as a result of pancreatic insufficiency and a decrease in insulin production;
  • general fatigue, chronic intoxication;
  • pancreatic abscess;
  • pulmonary complications;
  • pancreatogenic ascites;
  • illnesses and disorders of other organs of the digestive system (cholecystitis, duodenal ulcer);
  • cyst-like formations in the tissue of the pancreas;
  • jaundice due to mechanical obstruction of bile ducts;