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Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, a gland located behind the stomach that secretes insulin and glycogen and enzymes that aid digestion, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Acute pancreatitis may require emergency treatment, especially if caused by gallstones. However, mild symptoms may be present in both acute and chronic pancreatitis. These symptoms may last a few hours or days and often are attributed to other causes. Seek medical advice if several of the following symptoms persist.
Severe abdominal pain is the symptom most associated with acute pancreatitis. However, less disabling pain in the upper abdomen that lasts for several hours or days may still be a distress call from the pancreas. Take note if the pain is worse after drinking alcoholic beverages or eating, especially greasy foods or those with a high fat content. Unfortunately, absence of pain after an acute episode does not mean that pancreatic damage is not continuing. Lack of pain may mean the pancreas is not working.
Swelling and Tenderness
Sometimes pancreatitis causes abdominal swelling that is tender to the touch, but without the severe pain radiating to the back that is often present in the acute phase. While not diagnostic by itself, abdominal tenderness that is present in combination with other symptoms should be a red flag.
Nausea and Vomiting
In most instances, this kind of nausea is not relieved by antacids or other remedies. If it progresses to vomiting without relieving the discomfort, it probably isn't food related. One treatment for pancreatic inflammation is abstaining from solid food for a few days. If that helps, consider a diagnostic test to see if there is pancreatic involvement.
An inability to digest food properly may result when the pancreas does not produce an adequate supply of insulin or digestive enzymes. Weight loss is the symptom of malnourishment most likely to be noticed first but fatty stools are also a common symptom when the pancreas is not functioning properly.
Fever, Chills and Fatigue
Profound weakness, along with fever, chills, or feeling lightheaded or faint are a nonspecific constellation of symptoms that may be caused by pancreatic insufficiency, particularly in combination with other symptoms.
Mild cases of pancreatitis may go away without seeing a physician but untreated severe pancreatitis can have serious, even fatal, outcomes. For milder cases, dietary changes and enzyme supplements may be all that is needed. Surgery may be an option in severe disease if the bile duct is blocked or gallstones are present.