Symptoms & Causes of Pancreatitis

What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?

The main symptom of acute and chronic pancreatitis is

  • pain in your upper abdomen that may spread to your back

People with acute or chronic pancreatitis may feel the pain in different ways.

Acute pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis usually starts with pain that

  • begins slowly or suddenly in your upper abdomen
  • sometimes spreads to your back
  • can be mild or severe
  • may last for several days

Other symptoms may include

People with acute pancreatitis usually look and feel seriously ill and need to see a doctor right away.

A woman grimacing in pain while lying in a hospital bed.
The main symptom of pancreatitis is pain in your upper abdomen that may spread to your back.

Chronic pancreatitis

Most people with chronic pancreatitis

  • feel pain in the upper abdomen, although some people have no pain at all.

The pain may

  • spread to your back
  • become constant and severe
  • become worse after eating
  • go away as your condition gets worse

People with chronic pancreatitis may not have symptoms until they have complications.

Other symptoms may include

Seek care right away for pancreatitis

Seek care right away for the following symptoms of severe pancreatitis:

  • pain or tenderness in the abdomen that is severe or becomes worse
  • nausea and vomiting
  • fever or chills
  • fast heartbeat
  • shortness of breath
  • yellowish color of the skin or whites of the eyes, called jaundice

These symptoms may be a sign of

Left untreated, these problems can be fatal.

What causes pancreatitis?

The most common causes of both acute and chronic pancreatitis are

Other causes include

Acute pancreatitis

The most common cause of acute pancreatitis is having gallstones.

Gallstones cause inflammation of your pancreas as stones pass through and get stuck in a bile or pancreatic duct. This condition is called gallstone pancreatitis.

Chronic pancreatitis

The most common causes of chronic pancreatitis are

  • heavy alcohol use
  • genetic disorders of your pancreas

Other causes include

  • blockage in your pancreatic duct
  • high levels of blood fats, called lipids
  • high level of calcium in your blood

In many cases, doctors can’t find the cause of pancreatitis. This is called idiopathic pancreatitis.

November 2017
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.

The NIDDK would like to thank:
Christopher E. Forsmark, M.D., University of Florida College of Medicine