The pancreas, which is located behind the stomach, produces pancreatic juices and hormones including insulin. The substances produced by this organ aid in digestion. When the pancreas is not functioning properly, various health problems can occur. The pancreas can become inflamed, develop blockages and be affected by cancer. It is important to recognize the symptoms of pancreatic disease, so that treatment can be started as soon as possible.
Pancreatitis, or an inflamed pancreas, is the most common condition that affects this organ. This condition can be acute and occur abruptly such as when gallstones block the pancreas. It can also come on more slowly and become chronic due to disease. The American Association for Clinical Chemistry states that with both acute and chronic pancreatitis, the primary symptom is abdominal pain. In acute cases, there are no early warning signs; the condition comes on quickly. In chronic cases, there may be abdominal pain that is persistent, occurs after eating and gets progressively worse over time.
Pancreatitis can also be due to a medical condition that causes the fluids produced by the pancreas to attack the pancreas. This can lead to the organ breaking down. Conditions that can cause this include heavy alcohol use, trauma to the pancreas, or it can occur as a side effect of some medications. In some cases, if the pancreas stops making digestive juices, there will be no abdominal pain claims the National Pancreas Foundation. In these cases, more general symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may be the only warning signs.
If the pancreas is not producing the juices and hormones necessary for digestion, food will not be absorbed properly. This can lead to malnutrition and weight loss even though the appetite is fine. Any unexplained weight loss should always be evaluated by a physician. In the case of pancreatic disease, weight loss may or may not be accompanied by fat in the stools or oily stools, since the body is not absorbing the fat.
This organ can also be affected by cancer. Pancreatic cancer can be difficult to diagnose because it often causes no symptoms in the early stages, warns the National Cancer Institute. As the condition progresses, there may be general feelings of fatigue, weakness and general malaise. Eventually, the whites of the eyes and skin may develop a yellowish coloring called jaundice.