Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that causes digestive enzymes to attack and damage surrounding tissues. It can be acute (striking suddenly) or chronic (ongoing). With chronic pancreatitis, the inflammation does not heal but worsens over time. This can lead to permanent tissue damage, diabetes, and severe pain.

Overview and Symptoms

The symptoms of pancreatitis typically include upper abdominal pain, which can get worse after eating. There can be nausea as well. The pain may occur a few times a week, or constantly, and be quite debilitating.

Many people, from youngsters to adults, have unexplained chronic inflammation of the pancreas. We know that heavy alcohol use can lead to chronic pancreatitis in a small minority of people.  Pancreatitis can be caused when the body’s immune system attacks its own pancreas. Severe pancreatitis can also affect other vital organs such as the heart, lungs, and kidneys, so getting the right treatment is essential to making a complete recovery.

Chronic pancreatitis can be difficult to diagnose because CT scans, MRI scans, and standard blood tests can show normal results even when pancreatitis is present.

The Pancreas Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is one of the few centers in the world that performs an endoscopic secretin pancreatic function test, a highly sensitive test that can diagnose pancreatitis up to three years before there are changes visible on an MRI or CT scan. 


If you suffer from acute or chronic pancreatitis, our world-class experts can help. Treatments for pancreatitis can include medication or surgery, or new therapies that are available through as clinical trials.

Managing pain is a key goal. Prescribing narcotics (heavy-duty pain pills) is not always the best answer. Alternatives include to calm the brain networks that register pain, mind/body solutions such as meditation, and nerve blocks and other medicines.

BIDMC is currently studying two new therapies known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). These therapies target and calm the brain networks that register pain. Our studies found that applying a very focused beam of magnetic stimulation to a specific region of the brain could significantly reduce pancreatitis-related pain. This non-surgical, easy to tolerate treatment is bringing people great relief without narcotics.

In our research and treatment advances, we strive every day to cure pancreatitis. For some people, the pain disappears as mysteriously as it started. But for most, there are no cures. Still, we have many promising avenues in clinical trials. BIDMC is a leader in studying new therapies for this debilitating disease.