Pancreatitis, chronic

Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis

Repeated episodes of abdominal pain are the most common symptom of chronic pancreatitis. The pain usually develops in the middle or on the left side of your abdomen and can sometimes travel along your back.

Most people have described the pain as feeling like a dull but severe ache. The episodes of pain can last for several hours or sometimes days. The pain can sometimes occur after eating a meal, but often episodes of pain seem to have no trigger.

Leaning forwards or curling into a ball may help to relieve the pain to a certain extent. You may also experience symptoms of nausea and vomiting during the painful episodes. As chronic pancreatitis progresses, the painful episodes may become more frequent and severe.

Some people may eventually experience a constant mild to moderate pain in their abdomen in between episodes of severe pain. This pattern of symptoms is most common in people who continue to drink alcohol after diagnosis.

Some people who stop drinking alcohol may experience a reduction in the severity of their pain.

Advanced chronic pancreatitis

Additional symptoms can occur when the pancreas loses its ability to produce digestive juices, which help break down food in the digestive system. The pancreas usually only loses these functions many years after the original onset of symptoms.

The absence of digestive juices makes it difficult for your digestive system to break down fats and certain proteins. This can cause your faeces (stools) to become particularly smelly and greasy, and make them difficult to flush down the toilet. You may also experience:

  • bloating
  • abdominal cramps
  • excessive flatulence (breaking wind or farting)
  • back pain
  • weight loss
  • loss of appetite
  • jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)

When to seek medical advice

Always visit your GP if you are experiencing severe pain. This is because pain is a warning sign and the worse the pain is the more likely it is that there is something seriously wrong inside your body.

You should also visit your GP if you develop symptoms of jaundice. Jaundice can have a range of causes other than pancreatitis, but it is usually a sign that there is something wrong with your digestive system.

Last updated: 21 November 2012

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