Signs And Symptoms Of Pancreatitis

It’s important to discuss pancreatitis since it can become serious. 

If you know someone in your life who eats unhealthy food, smokes, and drinks lots of alcohol but doesn’t appear to be unhealthy, chances are they are actually at a very high risk of pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis can come on suddenly. This is what we call acute pancreatitis. 

However, it can also develop slowly over time. This is chronic pancreatitis. 

Read on to find out if you may be at risk of developing either type of pancreatitis, and what symptoms you should look out for.

What is pancreatitis?

The suffix “itis” means inflammation. Therefore, pancreatitis describes inflammation of the pancreas. 

Your pancreas is behind your stomach, close to your small intestines. The role of the pancreas is to release enzymes. These enzymes help to break down food. Some of them also regulate your body’s blood sugar management.

Pancreatitis can have a quick onset. It can also go away quickly. But it’s also possible that it becomes a chronic problem. 

The type of pancreatitis treatment you receive will depend on the type of pancreatitis you have. There are two main types of pancreatitis: acute pancreatitis and chronic pancreatitis. There are also forms called necrotizing pancreatitis and idiopathic pancreatitis.

Necrotizing pancreatitis happens when a part of your pancreas dies. This is due to inflammation or injury. If the necrotized tissue becomes infected, this can cause some serious complications.

To achieve a diagnosis and treatment, your health care provider may run an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography.

12 symptoms of acute pancreatitis

Did you know that acute pancreatitis is the main cause of gastrointestinal hospitalizations? In fact, about 275,000 patients are sent to the hospital with acute pancreatitis each year in the United States.

Acute pancreatitis often comes on very suddenly. The pancreatic inflammation usually clears up within a few days after starting treatment. But, as we mentioned, it could result in a hospital stay.

Acute pancreatitis is usually a problem in adults rather than children. The primary cause of acute pancreatitis is gall stones. This is what we call gallstone pancreatitis. 

It is important to note that severe acute pancreatitis can turn into chronic pancreatitis. This is especially true if you smoke cigarettes or drink large amounts of alcohol. If no complications develop, then we consider this to be mild acute pancreatitis.

Acute pancreatitis symptoms include the following:

  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Pain that may spread to the back
  • Pain that is mild or severe
  • Fever
  • Pain that can last for a few days
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Swollen or tender upper abdomen
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Can result in pancreatic necrosis (a severe infection)
  • The formation of pancreatic pseudocysts
  • The development of kidney disease

9 symptoms of chronic pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis can remain for a long period of time. Or it can be recurrent pancreatitis that comes back regularly. Patients with severe chronic pancreatitis may get permanent damage to their pancreas. 

This can lead to long-term decreased pancreatic function. In severe cases (not in mild pancreatitis), they may also experience other complications.

Since the inflammation is continuous, pancreatic tissue can scar. Since pancreatitis can damage insulin-producing cells, it can lead to diabetes. In fact, about 45 percent of those with chronic pancreatitis end up developing diabetes.

If you drink heavily over a long period, you could develop chronic pancreatitis. Other causes of chronic pancreatitis include autoimmune and genetic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis.

Chronic pancreatitis pain can last just a few minutes. However, it can also last a few hours at a time. 

When it is severe, chronic pancreatitis can result in constant discomfort. This pain is worse after you eat or when you’re lying down. In these cases, it may relieve your discomfort to lean forward or make yourself more comfortable.

Possible symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include the following:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • No pain at all
  • Severe pain that can spread to the back
  • Pain that gets worse after eating
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Steatorrhea

Steatorrhea is fatty stools. These give off a foul odor and are a sign of poor absorption of nutrients. This happens because your pancreas is not releasing enough digestive enzymes to digest your food.

Your health care provider will likely prescribe you pain medication for chronic pancreatitis.

RELATED: Best Ways To Manage Pancreatitis Pain.

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What causes pancreatitis?

The causes of chronic and acute pancreatitis are very similar. They include the following:

  • Gall stones
  • Overconsumption of alcohol
  • Certain medications
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Abdominal surgery
  • Infections
  • Injury to the abdomen
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • High levels of calcium or cholesterol in the blood

Gall stones are the most common cause of acute pancreatitis. Bile can form into gall stones, which are small solid masses. 

If a gall stone reaches a certain size, it can become stuck where the pancreatic duct and common bile duct joint together. These ducts empty into the first part of the small intestine.

The pancreatic duct carries digestive enzymes from the pancreas, and the common bile duct carries bile from the liver and gall bladder. If a gall stone gets stuck where these two ducts come together, then bile, pancreatic enzymes, and pancreatic fluid can get backed up. This can cause inflammation in the common bile duct and in the pancreas itself.

Factors that increase the risk of pancreatitis include the following:

  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Obesity
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Genetics (there is such a thing as hereditary pancreatitis)

Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol can increase the risk of acute pancreatitis turning into chronic pancreatitis. If you have a combination of several risk factors, then your risk of developing pancreatitis goes up.


You should now be well versed in what pancreatitis is. You are also aware of the symptoms of acute and chronic pancreatitis to look out for. And you should also have an understanding of the causes and risk factors for pancreatitis (both acute and chronic). 

If you believe you are at high risk of pancreatitis, see your health care provider today to see which pain medicine and diet and lifestyle changes you can make to prevent the development of this condition. They can help provide pain relief as well as prevent pancreatitis from happening again in the future.

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