A person with alcohol-related pancreatitis is, on the average, diagnosed at 39 years of age. Someone with pancreatitis due to biliary tract disease is diagnosed at a much later age of 69. Pain is usually the symptom that leads to a person’s diagnosis.
A person suffering from chronic pancreatitis often complains of a chronic ache. His symptoms include those related to sugar metabolism abnormalities because his diseased pancreas produces little to no insulin. He may suffer from fat malabsorption, characterized by fatty, smelly stools.
Acute pancreatitis, on the other hand, manifests with sudden abdominal pain, often accompanied by nausea or vomiting. The pain is severe, often prompting a sudden visit to the emergency room. Despite the alarming presentation, a person suffering from an acute attack may still enjoy a full recovery. A chronically-diseased pancreas, however, shows irreversible fibrosis or hardening.
A person with pancreatitis may complain of abdominal pain for hours or days. The pain is described as dull or boring. Unlike other causes of abdominal pain, it doesn’t feel like a stabbing ache. It is often localized in the center of the upper abdomen but may be shifted slightly to either side.
In many cases, the pain of pancreatitis radiates to the back. Some experience steady pain, while others experience on-and-off pain, a testament to the unpredictable and variable clinical progression of chronic pancreatitis. Other related symptoms include fever, increased heart rate, low blood pressure, distended abdomen, jaundice (seen as yellowing of the skin and the white area of the eyeball), difficulty in breathing, muscle cramps, and bloody stools. Internal bleeding may result in characteristic signs, such as a bluish color around the belly button or a reddish color along the sides of the abdomen.