Causes and Diagnoses

Causes and Diagnoses of Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis has a number of potential causes, the most common of which are alcohol abuse and gallstones (solid material in the gallbladder) blocking the duct exiting the pancreas. Other causes include:

  • Abdominal injury, causing trauma to the pancreas
  • Abdominal surgery
  • High triglycerides (particles of fat) in the blood
  • High calcium levels in the blood
  • Medications, including estrogen, steroids and certain diuretics
  • Infections, including salmonella, hepatitis A or B or mumps
  • A tumor
  • Genetic defects
  • Congenital (present at birth) abnormalities in the pancreas
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Cigarette smoking

Diagnosing pancreatitis

There are a number of tests that can confirm a diagnosis of pancreatitis, including:

  • Blood test: Lab tests can identify the presence of infection as well as the level of calcium and triglycerides in the blood. 
  • X-ray: Traditional X-ray images can indicate the severity of the inflammation and presence of gallstones. 
  • CT scan: A computed tomography (CT) scan combines X-ray and computer technology to produce detailed cross-sectional images of your pancreas.
  • Ultrasound: Ultrasound testing uses reflected sound waves to create images of the inside of your body. Unlike an X-ray or CT scan, there is no ionizing radiation exposure.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS): While you are under mild sedation, an endoscope (flexible tube) with an ultrasound probe is inserted in your mouth and into your stomach to create more precise images than may be available using external ultrasound. 
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): An endoscope goes through your esophagus, stomach and into the beginning of your small intestine. X-ray technology and contrast dye create clear images of the bile ducts.
  • Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP): This type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides detailed images of your pancreas, gallbladder, pancreas and bile ducts.