What is Pancreatitis?

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Pancreatitis is a benign inflammatory disease of the pancreas that can be acute or chronic. It affects 35-40 out of every 100,000 people a year and usually appears at 40-50 years of age. Acute pancreatitis is one of the most common causes of hospital admission in gastroenterology services.

Acute pancreatitis is a sudden, self-limiting inflammation of the pancreas and is often caused by gallstones or alcohol abuse. It appears suddenly as severe epigastric pain (in the upper abdomen) with vomiting.

Chronic pancreatitis is characterised by a process of persistent pancreatic inflammation whose final result is fibrosis and atrophy of the organ. The most common risk factors are alcohol and tobacco abuse, although there are other causes, such as genetic or autoimmune disorders. The most common symptom is abdominal pain in the stomach, radiating to the back.

Despite its low incidence (35-40 cases per 100,000 inhabitants/year), acute pancreatitis is one of the most frequent causes of hospitalisation in gastroenterology services. Peak incidence occurs at 40-50 years of age. Biliary pancreatitis is somewhat more common in women while that caused by alcohol is more common in men. In minors, the incidence is close to that of adults (10 cases per 100,000/year).

The incidence of chronic pancreatitis is 5-15 cases per 100,000 inhabitants/year and its prevalence is 30-50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. It is most often diagnosed in the fifth decade of life, and its appearance before the age of 40 years should raise suspicion of a genetic disorder. It affects men and women equally, but the origin of the disease differs: alcohol and tobacco are the main cause for men while obstructive and unknown factors are the origin in women.

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