Signs and Symptoms
About 75% of acute pancreatitis attacks are considered mild, although they may cause the affected person severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, weakness, and jaundice. These attacks cause local inflammation, swelling, and hemorrhage that usually resolve with appropriate treatment and do little or no permanent damage. About 25% of the time, complications develop, such as tissue death, infection, low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, shock, and kidney or liver failure. It is important to see a doctor when these symptoms develop, both because symptom severity does not necessarily reflect the amount of damage that may be occurring and because other conditions that require different treatments may cause similar symptoms.
Patients with chronic pancreatitis may have recurring attacks with symptoms similar to those of acute pancreatitis; these attacks often increase in frequency as the condition progresses. Over time, the pancreatic tissue becomes increasingly scarred and the cells that produce digestive enzymes are destroyed, causing pancreatic insufficiency, weight loss, malnutrition, ascites, pancreatic pseudocysts (fluid pools and destroyed tissue that can become infected), and fatty stools. As the cells that produce insulin are destroyed, the affected person may become diabetic.
Pain with chronic pancreatitis may be severe and continuous or intermittent. It may be made worse with eating/drinking and drinking alcohol.