Causes and Symptoms of Pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis can be caused by a genetic abnormality, physical injury to the pancreas, gallstones or other blockages, or medications. Alcohol abuse and smoking can contribute to chronic pancreatitis. For many chronic pancreatitis patients, the cause is unknown.

Acute and chronic pancreatitis are often connected.

Many chronic pancreatitis patients first experience acute pancreatitis, a temporary inflammation of the pancreas that is very painful and can be deadly. Acute pancreatitis was the most common principal gastrointestinal diagnosis for hospital admissions in the US, costing over $2.6 billion in inpatient costs in 2007 alone¹.

About 10-15% of people who suffer acute pancreatitis episodes develop chronic pancreatitis.

Potential Causes of Chronic Pancreatitis

  • Genetic abnormalities
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • High levels of calcium in the blood (known as hypercalcemia)
  • Decrease in the kidneys’ ability to filter waste and fluid from blood (chronic renal failure)
  • Physical injury to the pancreas
  • Gallstones
  • Blockages and obstructions to the pancreas
  • Medications
  • Drinking alcohol and smoking may contribute

There is usually not just one factor causing pancreatitis. Rather, it is a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors that can create a “perfect storm” for chronic pancreatitis. Still, for  many patients the cause of pancreatitis is unknown.

Precision medicine is helping us better understand the causes of pancreatitis. Researchers are increasingly viewing chronic pancreatitis as a combination of lifestyle, environmental, and genetic factors.

Symptoms of Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis symptoms can vary, but the main symptom of pancreatitis is severe abdominal pain in the upper right abdomen that radiates to the back.

  • Severe abdominal pain, in the upper belly
  • Pain in the back
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Belly pain that increases when you eat or drink alcohol

Many patients who suffer from chronic pancreatitis struggle with getting an accurate, timely diagnosis. Chronic pancreatitis is a highly complex rare disease that is difficult to diagnose and treat.

The Isabel Symptom Checker allows you to enter a list of symptoms and view possible associated diagnoses.


1 Burden of Gastrointestinal Disease in the United States: 2012 Update, Gastroenterology. 2012 November ; 143(5): 1179–1187.e3. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2012.08.002.

Scroll to Top

Before You Go

Get Updates in Your Inbox

Stay up-to-date on the latest Mission: Cure news and developments in pancreatitis care.

I am a...:

Welcome to our new site! Please be patient as we make some final updates.