Acute pancreatitis, in which blood levels of pancreatic enzymes increase by up to three times their normal level, causes moderate to severe abdominal pain that can radiate to the back, according to Clinical Key. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting.
Pancreatic enzymes assist with digestion and hormones that regulate blood glucose, explains Mayo Clinic. During normal digestion, enzymes become activated in the small intestine; however, if they become activated while still in the pancreas, they can cause inflammation, irritation and damage to the organ cells.
Accute pancreatitis appears suddenly and lasts for shorter bursts of time, as opposed to chronic pancreatitis, which is a condition that occurs over many years, states Mayo Clinic. Mild cases may go untreated, but the condition can be life-threatening. Recurring episodes of acute pancreatitis leads to scar tissue and reduced functionality of the pancreas, which can result in digestive problems and diabetes.
The causes of acute pancreatitis include alcoholism, gallstones, cigarette smoking, use of certain medications and cystic fibrosis, notes Mayo Clinic. Other causes include high calcium levels, high triglycerides, abdominal injury, infection or pancreatic cancer. The condition can lead to serious complications such as kidney failure, pseudocysts, respiratory problems and malnutrition.