Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, according to MedicineNet.com. This typically happens when the digestive enzymes found inside the pancreas become active, causing inflammation and even damage to the organ.
Pancreatitis can either be acute or chronic, as stated by MedicineNet.com. Acute, or sudden, pancreatitis is sometimes caused by the presence of gallstones, which are small, pebble-like masses of hardened bile that form in the gallbladder and can cause irritation when they pass through the common bile duct. Heavy alcohol use is another common cause of acute pancreatitis.
Most cases of chronic, or long-term, pancreatitis are caused by long-term alcohol abuse, cystic fibrosis or hereditary disorders, according to WebMD. In about 25 percent of cases, the causes of chronic pancreatitis are unknown.