Acute pancreatitis is associated with excessive alcohol drinking and gallstones about 80% of the time in the U.S., with the rest as a result of viral and bacterial infections, drugs, blockage of the pancreatic duct, trauma or surgery to the abdomen, elevated calcium levels, or extremely high triglyceride levels (a type of fat that circulates in the blood).
These factors appear to encourage pancreatic digestive enzymes to act on the pancreas itself, causing swelling, hemorrhage, and damage to blood vessels in the pancreas. Just under half of the people who develop chronic pancreatitis are heavy drinkers; heavy consumption of alcohol is the most frequent cause of pancreatic insufficiency in adults. The leading cause of pancreatic insufficiency in children is cystic fibrosis. Heredity can play a role in pancreatitis as well.
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