The most common symptom of chronic pancreatitis is repeated episodes of abdominal (tummy) pain. Eventually, there may also be digestion problems.
The pain usually develops in the middle or left side of the abdomen and can sometimes travel along your back. It's been described as a burning or shooting pain which comes and goes, but can last for several hours or days, in some cases.
Some people also experience symptoms of nausea and vomiting during the pain. As chronic pancreatitis progresses, the painful episodes may become more frequent and severe.
Although the pain sometimes occurs after eating a meal, there's often no trigger.
Eventually, a constant mild to moderate pain can develop in the abdomen in between episodes of severe pain. This is most common in people who continue to drink alcohol after being diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis.
Some people who stop drinking alcohol and stop smoking 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 to break down food in the digestive system. The pancreas usually only loses these functions many years after the original symptoms started.
The absence of digestive juices makes it difficult for your digestive system to break down fats and certain proteins. This can cause your stools to become particularly smelly and greasy, and make them difficult to flush down the toilet.
You may also experience:
- weight loss
- loss of appetite
- jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- symptoms of diabetes – such as feeling very thirsty, urinating frequently and feeling very tired
- ongoing nausea and vomiting
When to seek medical advice
Always visit your GP if you're experiencing severe pain, as this is a warning sign that something is wrong.
You should also visit your GP if you develop symptoms of jaundice. Jaundice can have a range of causes other than pancreatitis, but it's usually a sign that there's something wrong with your digestive system.
You should also visit your GP if you develop persistent vomiting.