Skip to content

Signs You Have Pancreatitis, According to Physicians

The pancreas doesn't get much attention until something goes wrong.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

The pancreas is a crucial organ that doesn't get much attention until something goes wrong. A gland located behind the stomach, it's responsible for releasing enzymes needed for digesting food and producing insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. When a condition known as pancreatitis develops, it can cause serious health problems and may even be fatal. These are the signs of pancreatitis, according to physicians. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

What Is Pancreatitis?

Doctor in white medical lab coat points ballpoint pen on anatomical model of human or animal pancreas
Shutterstock

"Pancreatitis is a serious health condition in which the pancreas of an affected individual becomes inflamed," says Mark Davis, MD, a physician with Pacific Analytics. "In this disease, the digestive enzymes start attacking the pancreas, and over time, the pancreas gets completely damaged. The inflamed pancreas can further result in inflammatory cells and toxins, increasing the risk of lungs, heart and kidney damage."

Left untreated, severe pancreatitis can be a life-threatening condition.

2

What Causes Pancreatitis?

drinking alcohol
Shutterstock

According to the Mayo Clinic, pancreatitis may be caused by 

  • Gallstones
  • Alcoholism
  • Medications
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • High levels of triglycerides (a type of fat) or calcium in the blood 
  • Infections
  • Abdominal injury
  • Obesity
  • Trauma

RELATED: Reasons Most People Gain "Too Much" Abdominal Fat

3

What Are The Signs You Have Pancreatitis?

Woman lying on sofa and suffering from stomach pain.
iStock

Most people with acute pancreatitis have persistent, severe pain in their upper abdomen right below the ribs, says Alex Spinoso, MD, of Genesis Lifestyle Medicine in Las Vegas, Nevada. 

In pancreatitis caused by gallstones, the pain is often very localized and comes on quickly, reaching maximum intensity in 10 to 20 minutes. With pancreatitis caused by alcohol or certain health conditions, the pain may be less abrupt and more general. 

"In approximately 50 percent of patients, the pain radiates to the back," says Spinoso. "The pain persists for several hours to days and may be partially relieved by sitting up or bending forward. Approximately 90% of patients have associated nausea and vomiting which may persist for several hours."

According to Davis, other symptoms of pancreatitis include:

  • Swollen and tender abdomen
  • Irregular pulse
  • Fever
  • Smelly stool
  • Aggravated abdominal pain after eating a meal

A small percentage (about 5 to 10 percent) of people who have acute severe pancreatitis may experience no pain with the condition.

RELATED: Omicron Symptoms Physicians Are Worried About Now

4

What Are The Risks of Pancreatitis?

Woman in her 30s sits by her living room window with a cup of tea and looks out contemplatively. She is a cancer survivor and is wearing a headscarf.
iStock

Pancreatitis can be a serious, even fatal, condition. "Chronic pancreatitis can cause long-term complications, including diabetes, weight loss, bile duct blockages, chronic pain and even pancreatic cancer," says Davis. "Therefore, it is very important to identify the early symptoms of pancreatitis and begin treatment as soon as possible."

RELATED: Habits Secretly Increasing Your Blood Clot Risk, Say Physicians

5

When To See a Doctor

risk of cancer
Shutterstock

"Anyone who experiences frequent and severe abdominal pain should see a doctor immediately," says Davis. Pancreatitis may need to be treated in the hospital with pain medication and IV fluids. You may need to undergo procedures to remove bile duct obstructions, gallstones, or part of the pancreas itself. Long-term, your doctor may recommend changing your diet, avoiding alcohol, taking supplments to improve your digestion, or changing medications that are causing pancreatitis. And to ensure your health don't miss these 101 Health Habits You Didn't Know Were Deadly.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael
Filed Under