Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas.
The pancreas is a leaf-shaped organ about 5 inches (about 13 centimeters) long. It is surrounded by the lower edge of the stomach and the wall of the duodenum (the first portion of the small intestine leading out of the stomach). The pancreas has three major functions:
Inflammation of the pancreas can be caused by gallstones, alcohol, various drugs, some viral infections, and digestive enzymes. Pancreatitis usually develops quickly and subsides within a few days but can last for a few months (acute pancreatitis). In some cases, however, inflammation persists and gradually destroys pancreatic function (chronic pancreatitis).
Last full review/revision November 2012 by Steven D. Freedman, MD, PhD