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, acute pancreatitis attacks are severe and complications can develop, such as tissue death, infection, low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, shock, and kidney or liver failure. Diagnosing and treating severe attacks as soon as possible are critical to prevent complications and to reduce inflammation and limit infection.
When symptoms develop, it is important to see a health practitioner 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.
People 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. The most common symptom observed is pain in the mid-abdomen that may radiate to the mid-back, which usually lasts at least several hours at a time.
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 (sacs of fluid 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.