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Pancreatitis symptoms

Pancreatitis can come on suddenly (acute pancreatitis) or it can occur repeatedly in a less severe way over a longer period (chronic pancreatitis).

Acute pancreatitis

Typical symptoms of acute pancreatitis include:

  • sudden, severe upper abdominal pain, often spreading through to the back and eased by leaning forward
  • nausea and vomiting
  • fevers and sweats
  • being tender to the touch in the abdomen.

The symptoms of acute pancreatitis can be similar to symptoms of other medical emergencies such as heart attack. If you or someone in your care has these symptoms, please seek immediate medical attention.

Chronic pancreatitis

The most common symptom of chronic pancreatitis is long-standing pain in the middle of the abdomen. People with chronic pancreatitis might get repeated episodes of acute pancreatitis, where the pain gets worse.

People with chronic pancreatitis can have trouble digesting food, particularly fats, because of the lack of enzymes. This can lead to diarrhoea, weight loss, vitamin and mineral deficiencies and loose, greasy, foul-smelling stools that are difficult to flush. There is usually a history of long term alcohol consumption.

In severe cases, the pancreas may not produce enough insulin, leading to diabetes.

Chronic pancreatitis is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer.

Last reviewed: November 2016

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