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Signs and symptoms

Acute pancreatitis

About 75% of acute pancreatitis attacks are considered mild, although they may cause the patient severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, weakness and jaundice. These attacks cause local inflammation, swelling, and haemorrhage that usually resolves itself with appropriate treatment and does little or no permanent damage.

About 25% of the time, complications develop, such as tissue necrosis, infection, hypotension (low blood pressure), difficulty breathing, shock, and kidney or liver failure. It is important to see your doctor if you have symptoms that suggest pancreatitis because symptom severity does not necessarily reflect the amount of damage that may be occurring and because other conditions (requiring different treatments) may cause similar symptoms.

Chronic pancreatitis

Patients with chronic pancreatitis may have recurring attacks with symptoms similar to those of acute pancreatitis; these attacks increase in frequency as the condition progresses. Over time, the pancreas tissue becomes increasingly scarred and the cells that produce digestive enzymes are destroyed, causing pancreatic insufficiency (inability to produce enzymes and digest fats and proteins), weight loss, malnutrition, ascites, pancreatic pseudocysts (fluid pools and destroyed tissue that can become infected), and fatty stools. As the cells that produce insulin and glucagon are destroyed, the patient may become permanently diabetic.

Pain with chronic pancreatitis may be severe and continual or intermittent. It may be made worse with eating, drinking and imbibing alcohol.

Last Review Date: September 5, 2017