Pancreatitis usually appears as a sudden (acute) attack of pain in the upper area of the belly (abdomen). The disease may be mild or severe.
Most people with pancreatitis have mild acute pancreatitis. The disease does not affect their other organs, and these people recover without problems. In most cases, the disease goes away within a week after treatment begins. Treatment takes place in the hospital with pain medicines and intravenous (IV) fluids. After inflammation goes away, the pancreas usually returns to normal.
In some cases, pancreatic tissue is permanently damaged or even dies (necrosis). These complications increase the risk of infection and organ failure.
In severe cases, pancreatitis can be fatal.
Long-term pancreatitis (chronic pancreatitis) may occur after one or more episodes of acute pancreatitis. The most common cause of chronic pancreatitis is long-term alcohol abuse.
What happens during the course of chronic pancreatitis varies. Ongoing pain and complications often occur. Complications may include flare-ups of symptoms, fluid buildup, and blockage of a blood vessel, the bile duct, or the small intestine.
If much of your pancreatic tissue has died, you may become malnourished. This happens because the pancreas no longer produces enzymes needed to digest fat and protein. So fat is released into your stool. This condition, called steatorrhea, causes loose, pale, unusually foul-smelling stools that may float in the toilet bowl.
If the damaged pancreas stops making enough insulin, you also may develop diabetes.
Chronic pancreatitis increases the risk of pancreatic cancer. About 4 out of 100 people with chronic pancreatitis develop this cancer.1