Chronic pancreatitis : Symptoms & Signs, Diagnosis & Tests

Symptoms & Signs

  • Abdominal pain
    • Greatest in the upper abdomen
    • May last from hours to days
    • Eventually may be continuous
    • May get worse from eating or drinking
    • May get worse from drinking alcohol
    • May also be felt in the back
  • Digestive problems
    • Chronic weight loss, even when eating habits and amounts are normal
    • Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
    • Fatty or oily stools
    • Pale or clay-colored stools

The symptoms may become more frequent as the condition gets worse. The symptoms may mimic pancreatic cancer. Sitting up and leaning forward may sometimes relieve the abdominal pain of pancreatitis.

Diagnosis & Tests

Tests for pancreatitis include:

  • Fecal fat test
  • Serum amylase
  • Serum IgG4 (for diagnosing autoimmune pancreatitis)
  • Serum lipase
  • Serum trypsinogen

Inflammation or calcium deposits of the pancreas, or changes to the ducts of the pancreas may be seen on:

  • Abdominal CT scan
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS)
  • Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)

An exploratory laparotomy may be done to confirm the diagnosis, but this is usually done for acute pancreatitis.


Review Date : 1/20/2010
Reviewed By : George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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