DJ Avicii
DJ Avicii lived with pancreatitis in his final years | Getty Images

Pancreatitis, the disease that 28-year-old Swedish DJ Avicii lived with in the years before his recent death, is on the rise in the United States.

An official police report and cause of death have not been released as of today. But according to a report this morning by TMZ, Avicii, whose real name was Tim Bergling, died by cutting himself.

Avicii had previously experienced acute pancreatitis, partly due to excessive drinking.

In 2014 he had his gallbladder and appendix removed, resulting in the cancellation of a series of shows, according to CBS News.

And in 2016 he announced that he would give up touring, a decision that he told The Hollywood Reporter was for his health.

What is pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is inflammation in the pancreas, an organ located behind the stomach.

The pancreas has two functions: to make insulin that helps the body use blood sugar for energy and to make enzymes that help you digest food.

Pancreatitis occurs when digestive enzymes damage the pancreas, which leads to inflammation. The condition can be acute or chronic.

Acute pancreatitis appears suddenly and lasts for a short time, although some people may require longer hospital stays.

Dr. Adam Goodman, chief of gastroenterology and director of endoscopy and quality in the Department of Medicine at NYU Langone Hospital—Brooklyn, said that symptoms of acute pancreatitis are mild about 80 percent of the time.

But acute pancreatitis can also be “more severe with a prolonged hospital course and potential complications,” he told Healthline. “These complications can lead to the need for more invasive procedures to aid in the treatment.”

Chronic pancreatitis lasts for years and does not improve. It also generally worsens over time.

Complications from acute and chronic pancreatitis include damage to the pancreas, heart, lungs, or kidneys. Severe cases can also lead to death.

According to the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), the main symptom of acute and chronic pancreatitis is pain in the upper abdomen. This pain may also spread to the back.

People with acute pancreatitis usually look and feel sick. Acute pancreatitis can also cause the following symptoms:

  • fever
  • nausea and vomiting
  • rapid heartbeat
  • tender or swollen abdomen

Most people with chronic pancreatitis have pain in their upper abdomen, although some people have no pain at all. The pain may worsen after eating. Other symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include:

  • diarrhea
  • nausea or vomiting
  • greasy, foul-smelling stools
  • unplanned or unexpected weight loss

Prompt medical care can reduce the complications from acute or chronic pancreatitis.

“If you have signs or symptoms of biliary colic — abdominal pain after eating — see your doctor,” said Goodman. “Performing a cholecystectomy [surgical removal of the gallbladder] can prevent complications of gallstone disease, including pancreatitis, if one is symptomatic.”

Alcohol and pancreatitis

The NIDDK reports that acute pancreatitis is on the rise, although the reason for this is not known.

Each year in the United States, acute pancreatitis results in 275,000 hospital stays, with 86,000 hospital stays for chronic pancreatitis.

Certain groups of people are more likely to get pancreatitis, including men, African Americans, people who have had gallstones in the past, and people with a family history of pancreatitis or gallstones.

Some health conditions are linked to an increased risk of pancreatitis, including diabetes, gallstones, high triglyceride levels, cystic fibrosis, genetic disorders of the pancreas, and certain autoimmune conditions.

Two risk factors for acute pancreatitis stand out.

“The majority of cases of acute pancreatitis in the United States are caused by gallstones and alcohol,” said Goodman.

Some research suggests that people can develop acute pancreatitis after a single bout of binge drinking — with an attack occurring 12 to 48 hours after they stop drinking.

“There are scenarios when patients who ‘don’t drink very much’ went out and had too much to drink one night, and they developed acute pancreatitis,” said Goodman.

But one 2011 study found that cases of acute pancreatitis did not increase during Germany’s Oktoberfest, a time when binge drinking is common.

This study, and others, have found that long-term heavy drinking is a stronger risk factor for pancreatitis, both acute and chronic.

“One episode of binge drinking and pancreatitis won’t usually lead to chronic pancreatitis,” said Goodman. “Our thinking now is that multiple episodes of acute pancreatitis and continued inflammation are necessary for one to develop chronic pancreatitis.”

If you have a history of pancreatitis, drinking alcohol may worsen your condition. If you are concerned, talk to your doctor.

It’s difficult to say how much alcohol you can safely drink because other risk factors are involved.

“Alcohol intake is a cause of pancreatitis,” said Goodman. “Unfortunately it may not relate to the amount of alcohol one consumes or the number of times someone drinks in a week.”

But, added Goodman, “abstinence is something that could mitigate this risk.”