The main symptom of acute pancreatitis is a severe, dull pain around the top of your stomach that develops suddenly.

This aching pain often gets steadily worse and can travel along your back or below your left shoulder blade. Eating or drinking may also make you feel worse very quickly, especially fatty foods.

Leaning forward or curling into a ball may help to relieve the pain, but lying flat on your back often increases the pain.

Acute pancreatitis caused by gallstones usually develops after eating a large meal. If the condition is caused by alcohol, the pain often develops 6-12 hours after drinking a significant amount of alcohol.

Other symptoms of acute pancreatitis can include:

  • nausea (feeling sick) or vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • indigestion
  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • jaundice – yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes
  • tenderness or swelling of the abdomen (tummy)

When to seek medical advice

Contact your GP immediately if you suddenly develop severe abdominal pain. If this isn't possible, contact NHS 111 or your local out-of-hours service for advice.

Page last reviewed: 02/03/2015
Next review due: 01/03/2018