Warning Signs of Acute vs. Chronic Pancreatitis

Posted By Author on August 25, 2022

doctor examining patient for acute vs. chronic pancreatitis condition

So acute vs. chronic pancreatitis, what’s the difference?

Pancreatitis is a condition characterized by the irritation and swelling of the pancreas. The pancreas not only produces enzymes needed to break down food, but hormones used to regulate blood sugar levels. Because the pancreas plays an important role in digestion, intestinal discomfort is a common symptom of pancreatitis. 

Symptoms, and the treatments used to alleviate them, vary according to the condition’s severity. Our board certified gastroenterologists explain the difference between acute and chronic pancreatitis below – so read on to learn more!


Acute Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is considered acute if symptoms occur suddenly and only persist for a few days. The sudden inflammation of the pancreas happens when the enzymes are activated and begin to digest the tissue of the pancreas. In many cases of acute pancreatitis, this results in bleeding, swelling and damage to the pancreas. 

Signs and symptoms of acute pancreatitis include various types of pain and intestinal discomfort:

  • Upper abdomen pain
  • Type of abdominal pain that radiates to your back
  • Abdominal tenderness 
  • Pain that worsens immediately after eating/drinking, especially fatty foods
  • Fever 
  • Digestive issues
  • Rapid pulse
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Sweating 

The following risk factors increase your chances of developing acute pancreatitis:

  • Obesity
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney stones
  • Family history

People with severe acute pancreatitis may develop chronic pancreatitis in the future, so it is important that a GI doctor closely monitors your condition.

Chronic Pancreatitis:

Once scarring of the pancreas occurs, the condition becomes chronic. People with chronic pancreatitis have often experienced repeated episodes of acute pancreatitis or have a family history of the GI condition. Those who have abused alcohol are also at an increased risk of developing chronic pancreatitis.

Early signs resemble those of acute pancreatitis. Other signs of chronic pancreatitis include:

  • Pain in the upper belly that spreads into the back
  • Abdominal pain that worsens when you eat or drink alcohol
  • Diarrhea or oily stools
  • Abnormal bowel movements
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Persistent severe abdominal pain that is constant or keeps coming back
  • Weight loss

Because chronic pancreatitis can lead to other health conditions, such as diabetes and kidney failure, it is important to seek medical attention. 

Diagnostic Testing

If your Charleston GI specialist suspects pancreatitis, they may recommend blood and imaging tests after conducting a physical exam and family health assessment. Diagnostic tests for acute pancreatitis include the following:

  • Blood tests
  • Test to show the release of pancreatic enzymes
  • Abdominal CT scan
  • Abdominal MRI
  • Abdominal ultrasound

Diagnostic tests for chronic pancreatitis include:

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

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is another tool used to diagnose and treat problems with the bile and pancreatic ducts. 

Visit Your Trusted Gastroenterologist in Charleston – No Referral Needed!

If you are experiencing pain, intestinal discomfort or any of the symptoms listed above, contact Charleston GI today. Our experienced team of gastroenterologists is here to help, always committed to delivering a higher standard of caring. 

We’re conveniently located, with four easily accessible office locations throughout the Charleston, South Carolina area. Our GI specialists are proud to serve patients in the towns of Mount Pleasant, Summerville, Carnes Crossroads or West Ashley. There’s no referral needed, so get in touch today to schedule your appointment!