Common Symptoms of Pancreas Problems: How This Organ is Affected By Disease

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The pancreas is a gland, about six inches long, that aids in digestion. It does this by producing enzymes and insulin the body needs to help the body digest food and to help regulate glucose levels. The pancreas is located in the upper abdomen, behind the stomach.

The symptoms of pancreas problems vary, depending upon the specific problem, though there are a few common symptoms.

Types of Pancreas Problems

The pancreas can experience any number of problems. If it becomes enlarged it could be normal (hereditary) or due to one of the following:

  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Pancreatitis
  • Acute pancreatitis
  • Chronis pancreatitis
  • Cystadenoma
  • Pancreatic pseudocyst
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Islet cell tumor
  • High fat or calcium levels in the blood

Symptoms of an Enlarged Pancreas

Upper abdominal pain is one of the symptoms of pancreas problems, commonly associated with an enlarged pancreas. However, an enlarged pancreas can be accompanied by no symptoms at all. One of the reasons why pancreatic cancer can be so difficult to diagnose early is because of this absence of symptoms.

Other symptoms that can accompany an enlarged pancreas are jaundice, fever, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and rapid pulse.

Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer

Some symptoms that can be specific to pancreatic cancer are shivering, itching, diabetes, fever, pain in the stomach region and changes in bowel movements.

Types of Rare Pancreatic Tumors

Another type of pancreas problem is having a rare pancreas tumor. There are several types of these tumors and the symptoms of any of these rare tumors are directly related to the hormone produced by the tumor.

The types of rare pancreas tumors are:

  • Glucagonomas
  • Gastrinomas
  • Insulinomas
  • VIPomas
  • Somatostatinomas

Diseases of the Pancreas

The pancreas can become diseased. Some of the diseases that can affect the pancreas are diabetes mellitus, pancreas tumor and pancreatic enzyme deficiency.

Pancreatic Disease Symptoms

The symptoms of pancreatic enzyme deficiency that are most common are weight loss and diarrhea in the affected patient.

Dull upper abdominal pain and jaundice are symptoms a patient may experience that may accompany the presence of a pancreatic tumor.

Tests for Pancreatic Problems

When the symptoms of pancreas problems are present, any number of tests may be conducted. Some common ones for pancreas problems are as listed below:

  • Physical examination
  • Genetic testing
  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • Biopsy
  • Ultrasound
  • Sweat chloride test
  • ERCP
  • Amylase and lipase blood tests

Treatment for Pancreas Problems

The treatment can vary depending upon the specific pancreas problem. Some common treatments include IV fluids and hospitalization, medication, antibiotics, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, dietary changes including giving up fatty foods, giving up smoking and giving up alcoholic beverages.


Enlarged Pancreas: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments. Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD. February 26, 2009.

Pancreatic cancer symptoms. Updated December 22, 2009.

Pancreas Disease. Jackson/Siegelbaum Gastroenterology.

Digestive Disorders Health Center. WebMD. Reviewed May 1, 2009.