Autoimmune Disorders That Cause Pancreatitis

You may not give your pancreas much thought, until it becomes inflamed and causes abdominal pain, fever, and nausea.

This long, flat gland is located right behind the stomach and upper abdomen. The pancreas produces two critical substances: enzymes that help you digest food, and insulin, a hormone that helps your body process sugar.

Inflammation of the pancreas, called pancreatitis, can be acute – usually caused by gallstones or heavy alcohol use – or chronic. Chronic pancreatitis may result from long-term alcohol abuse, high triglyceride levels, or genetics. You may also suffer pancreatitis due a faulty immune system.

Autoimmune pancreatitis is a disease in itself. Pancreatitis may also be a symptom of another autoimmune disease, such as lupus. At Digestive Disorders Associates, our team of gastroenterologists works to find out the cause of your pancreatitis so it can be managed effectively. 

Among the many potential causes of pancreatitis, the doctors at our office consider the following possible autoimmune disorders.

Autoimmune pancreatitis

Autoimmune pancreatitis is relatively rare and has symptoms similar to pancreatic cancer, but is a very different condition. It’s characterized by chronic inflammation caused by the body’s immune system attacking the pancreas. Some people suffer from the type 1 version of this condition, in which multiple organs -- including the kidneys, lymph nodes, salivary glands, and bile ducts in the liver -- are also affected.

Autoimmune pancreatitis may also present as type 2, in which just the pancreas seems affected. About one-third of people with autoimmune pancreatitis have associated inflammatory bowel disease, which is another autoimmune condition. At Digestive Disorders Associates, our team can help you manage inflammatory bowel disease, too.


Lupus, an autoimmune condition that causes pain in multiple areas of your body, can affect the pancreas. In some cases, people experience pancreatitis as a side effect of lupus due to inflammation of the blood vessels. Certain medications taken to address symptoms of lupus can also inflame the pancreas.

It’s important for you to consult an expert, like those at Digestive Disorders Associates, if you have lupus and are suffering the symptoms of pancreatitis. Your treatment depends on whether your condition is caused by the blood vessels, which may require medication, or by the medications themselves, in which case they must be withdrawn.

Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC)

A chronic cholestatic liver disease that can progress to cirrhosis, PSC is also associated with inflammatory bowel disease and chronic gallstones, both of which play a role in pancreatitis. PSC isn’t necessarily caused by a malfunctioning immune system, but often develops in people with systems that are autoimmune compromised.

Primary biliary cirrhosis

Primary biliary cirrhosis develops when your immune system attacks the bile ducts in your liver. Your liver makes bile to aid with digestion and help get rid of cholesterol, toxins, and old red blood cells. If bile backs up in your liver due to blocked ducts, you may develop irreversible scarring of the liver.

This scarring can interfere with the ducts that connect the liver to the pancreas, leading to inflammation.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when your body attacks tissues in your joints, leading to widespread, systemic inflammation. You may experience swollen joints, pain, and decreased physical function. It’s not fully understood why people with rheumatoid arthritis are susceptible to pancreatitis, but an association has been noted in respected research.


When you have sarcoidosis, tiny collections of inflammatory cells grow in various parts of your body. While these pockets of inflammation, or granulomas, most often form on the lungs and lymph nodes, the pancreas and other organs can be affected.

Sarcoidosis likely results when your immune system responds to an unknown substance, such as chemicals, dust, or proteins within your body.

Sjögren's syndrome

With Sjögren's syndrome, your mucous membranes and moisture-secreting glands are attacked by your immune system, leaving you with decreased tears and saliva. You suffer a dry mouth and dry eyes as a result. Sjögren's syndrome often appears alongside other autoimmune conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

People with Sjögren's syndrome are at an increased risk of developing acute pancreatitis. 

If you’re suffering with symptoms of pancreatitis, make an appointment with us right away. Our expert staff can determine the root cause of your inflammation and help you manage both acute and long-term cases. Call our office in Annapolis, Maryland, or use the “schedule now” button on this website.

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