6 Symptoms of a Pancreas Problem That Doctors Want You to Know

6 Symptoms of a Pancreas Problem That Doctors Want You to Know


Your bowel movements changed.

toilet paper


If you notice that your stool is light-colored and floating, that’s a sign of poor nutrient absorption, which could mean your pancreas isn’t doing its job.

“The enzymes your pancreas produces help you digest fats in your diet,” explains Andrew Hendifar, M.D., medical director of pancreatic cancer medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. The pancreas also helps your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, E, and K, he says.

When the pancreas can’t properly manufacture those enzymes, your stool looks paler and becomes less dense, he adds.

You may also notice your poop is oily or greasy. “The toilet water will have a film that looks like oil,” Dr. Hendifar says. That’s the dietary fat your body failed to break down, he explains.

Occasional oily or discolored poop usually isn’t much to worry about. But if all or most of your poops have these characteristics, let your doctor know.


You have abdominal pain.



Abdominal pain is one of the most common symptoms of both pancreatic cancer and pancreatitis, Dr. Hendifar says. However, that pain manifests in different ways depending on the underlying condition, he explains.

Does the pain start in your middle before “radiating” there or into your lower back? If so and if it lingers for weeks, that may be a sign of pancreatic cancer, says Ted Epperly, M.D., president and CEO of Full Circle Health.

It’s common for doctors to mistake pain triggered by pancreatic cancer for reflux or other GI issues, Dr. Hendifar says. So, let your doctor know if you have these conditions or use a proton pump inhibitor medication to treat them.

Also, talk to your doctor if pain comes on suddenly, is intense, and is focused in the middle of your abdomen, Dr. Epperly says.

Keep in mind, however, that abdominal pain can be a symptom of many different health issues, Dr. Hendifar notes. Just keep an eye on it and get it checked out if it meets any of the above criteria.


You have diabetes.



Your pancreas produces hormones that help control your body’s production of insulin, as well as your blood sugar levels. So a new diagnosis of diabetes could indicate pancreas problems.

Also, Dr. Berkenblit says if you’ve had diabetes for five years or longer, your risk for pancreatic disease goes up. Pay attention to any changes in your blood sugar or weight if you have diabetes, which might signal a problem with your pancreas.

“Those sudden changes in diabetes status without an obvious explanation, those are things we see associated with pancreatic cancer,” Dr. Hendifar says.

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You’re nauseous after fatty meals.



Nausea and vomiting are symptoms of pancreatitis, Dr. Berkenblit says. That’s especially true if you get sick after eating fatty foods, Dr. Hendifar adds.

Since your pancreas produces enzymes that help your digestive system break down fat, diseases that affect your pancreas tend to mess with your body’s fat-digesting capabilities, which leads to nausea, Dr. Epperly says.

“Hamburgers are often nausea triggers, and so are avocados and nuts, which are all high in fat,” he says. “Pizza is another one that’s really tough for patients with a compromised pancreas.”


You’re losing weight unintentionally.



If you’re shedding weight without trying—and especially if you’re experiencing pain that radiates from your middle to your back—that weight loss could be due to the digestive issues associated with pancreatic cancer or disease, Dr. Hendifar says.

People with pancreatic cancer also tend not to have much of an appetite, according to the American Cancer Society.

Other health conditions, like thyroid disease, can also explain rapid weight loss, Dr. Hendifar says. In any case, you need to see someone.


Your skin Is yellowing.

close up eye looking into broken mirror

Gëzim Fazliu / EyeEm//Getty Images

If you’ve noticed yellowing of your skin or in the whites of your eyes, these are signs of jaundice, which can also be a symptom of pancreatic cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic.

As pancreatic disease progresses, it can put pressure on your bile ducts, Dr. Berkenblit says. This blocks the bile flow from your gallbladder into the small intestine, causing a buildup of a yellowish pigment known as bilirubin.

Dark-colored urine is also a common symptom. Any time you notice unusual hues of yellow, call your doctor as soon as you can.

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