What is does the Pancreas do?
The pancreas produces enzymes or digestive juices into the small intestine to help break down food after it has left the stomach. The pancreas also produces the hormone insulin and secretes it into the bloodstream in order to regulate the body’s glucose or sugar level.
What is Pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis is a disease in which the pancreas becomes inflamed. This happens because the digestive enzymes have been activated before they are released into the small intestine and they attack the Pancreas itself.
There are two forms of pancreatitis: acute and chronic.
Acute Alcohol related Pancreatitis
Acute Pancreatitis is the sudden inflammation of the Pancreas. It can differ significantly in terms of severity from mild discomfort to a serious, life threatening condition. It usually only lasts a few days and most people recover fully after an episode.
- abdominal pain, just behind the ribs and spreading through the back
- difficulty breathing
What causes Acute Alcoholic Pancreatitis?
The large majority of cases of acute pancreatitis are closely linked to gallstones or to alcohol abuse.
How is Acute Alcoholic Pancreatitis treated?
As long as there are no complications, there is no specific treatment for Pancreatitis and care usually focuses on relieving the symptoms and helping the body to recover. Most patients will be admitted to hospital.
Treatment therefore usually includes the administration of fluids via an IV line to replace any fluids lost as a result of vomiting. No food or liquid should be taken by mouth for a few days to allow the intestine and pancreas to rest and recover. If the patient is having difficulty breathing they will be given oxygen.
Recovery from Acute Alcohol Pancreatitis
In most cases, patients will recover fully from an episode of Acute Alcohol related Pancreatitis but it is advised to stop drinking alcohol to stop the problem reoccurring. Long term alcohol abuse can also lead to Chronic Alcohol related Pancreatitis.
Chronic Alcohol Related Pancreatitis
Chronic Alcohol Related Pancreatitis is when the pancreas becomes permanently inflamed, usually as a result of long term alcohol abuse. Over time, the inflammation causes scarring and damage to the pancreas which means that it does not function properly and leads to poor digestion. A lack of insulin, one of the hormones the pancreas produces, can cause diabetes.
Symptoms of chronic alcohol related pancreatitis include:
- recurring, severe pain behind the ribs and through the back
- weight loss
- greasy, foul smelling stools
- back pain
- yellow skin and eyes
What causes Chronic Alcohol Related Pancreatitis?
Chronic Alcohol Pancreatitis usually develops as a result of an episode of acute alcohol related pancreatitis, when the patient continues to drink alcohol.
How is Chronic Alcoholic Pancreatitis treated?
You will need to stop drinking alcohol for good if the condition is to be stabilised. If you are highly dependent on alcohol, this may require support through a withdrawal programme.
You will also be treated with enzyme replacement tablets to ease digestion and if required insulin to control blood sugar levels, plus painkillers to manage the pain.
Recovery from Chronic Alcoholic Pancreatitis
The damage to the pancreas caused by chronic alcohol related pancreatitis is not reversible but it can be prevented from worsening if you stop drinking. If you do not you are putting yourself at risk of further complications and possibly the need for surgery.
If you are dependent on alcohol you may need to enrol in an alcohol withdrawal programme to help support you.