Pancreatitis is an inflamed or infected pancreas. Damage to the pancreas happens when its own digestive enzymes attack the pancreas itself, a process called autodigestion. We do not completely understand what actually triggers this process. Those digestive enzymes usually work outside of the pancreas, in the intestine, to help digest food.

In addition to the pancreatic enzymes attacking the pancreas, the autodigestive process seems to stimulate other enzymes, which also start digesting the pancreas. In severe cases, bleeding, the development of cysts, serious tissue damage or death of tissue in the pancreas may occur. The enzymes and toxins released during that process may enter the bloodstream and cause serious damage to the kidneys, heart, lungs and other organs.

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