Disorders of the Pancreas
Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) is a serious disorder. The most basic classification system used to describe or catego-rize the various stages and forms of pancreatitis divides the dis-order into acute or chronic forms. Acute pancreatitis can be a medical emergency associated with a high risk for life-threatening complications and mortality, whereas chronic pancreatitis often goes undetected until 80% to 90% of the exocrine and endocrine tissue is destroyed. Acute pancreatitis does not usually lead to chronic pancreatitis unless complications develop. However, chronic pancreatitis can be characterized by acute episodes. Typically, patients are men 40 to 45 years of age with a history of alcoholism or women 50 to 55 years of age with a history of biliary disease (Hale et al., 2000).
Although the mechanisms causing pancreatic inflammation are unknown, pancreatitis is commonly described as autodigestion of the pancreas. Generally, it is believed that the pancreatic duct becomes obstructed, accompanied by hypersecretion of the ex-ocrine enzymes of the pancreas. These enzymes enter the bile duct, where they are activated and, together with bile, back up (reflux) into the pancreatic duct, causing pancreatitis.