Pancreatitis is classified as either acute or chronic. Acute pancreatitis is inflammation that resolves both clinically and histologically. Chronic pancreatitis is characterized by histologic changes that are irreversible and progressive and that result in considerable loss of exocrine and endocrine pancreatic function. Patients with chronic pancreatitis may have a flare-up of acute disease.
Pancreatitis can affect both the exocrine and endocrine functions of the pancreas. Pancreatic acinar cells secrete bicarbonate and digestive enzymes into ducts that connect the pancreas to the duodenum at the ampulla of Vater (exocrine function). Pancreatic β-cells secrete insulin directly into the bloodstream (endocrine function).
Last full review/revision September 2012 by Steven D. Freedman, MD, PhD