This article has been medically reviewed by Dr Robert Lefever, a world-leading addictions specialist.
People consume alcohol worldwide regardless of its harmful effects. Some may use it in moderate amounts and don’t suffer from severe side effects. But, for others, alcohol can become a life-threatening habit. Alcohol can cause liver cirrhosis, weakened immune system, heart diseases, and not to forget alcohol pancreatitis.
If you are suffering from alcohol pancreatitis or any other side effects of alcohol, please feel free to call us at 0203 955 7700 and start your consultation as soon as possible with help4addiction. Ignoring it now can take a toll on your life.
What Is Alcohol Pancreatitis?
The pancreas is a gland/organ present inside the abdomen behind the stomach. It converts the food into fuel that our body cells use to function. It plays an essential role by performing two functions. One of the functions is to produce and release enzymes in the small intestine. These are the digestive enzymes that help in the process of digestion. And the second function of the pancreas is to release insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream. These two hormones help the body in the proper use of energy.
Certain habits such as hazardous drinking can increase the risk of physical, mental, and social consequences. One of the effects that prolonged dangerous alcohol can cause is irreversible and progressive damage to the pancreas gland. Hence, called alcohol pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas. This inflammation can lead to injury and dysfunction of the organ. There are two forms of alcohol pancreatitis; acute pancreatitis and chronic pancreatitis. Both are different due to their course and symptoms.
What Causes Alcohol Pancreatitis?
Although there are many causes of pancreatitis, such as infections, drugs, genetic causes, etc., the most common etiologies are gallstones and alcohol. Of these causes, alcohol consumption results in 17%-25% cases of acute pancreatitis worldwide, being the second most common cause after gallstones.
Everybody has a different sensitivity to alcohol and vulnerability to diseases. For example, some individuals develop alcohol pancreatitis when they drink even 20g/day of alcohol. Others don’t develop the disease until they take 200g/day. However, some people, no matter how much they drink, never develop it.
Usually, the disorder manifests with substantial and continuous use of alcohol over five years. While the risk of developing pancreatitis is not increased by the type of alcohol one ingests, alcohol may make the pancreas prone to damage by other factors. Other environmental and external factors include cigarette use, genetics, infectious agents, and a high-fat diet. Moreover, people who drink alcohol more than 400 g per month and are also heavy smokers are at four times greater risk to develop acute pancreatitis.
Above all, chronic alcohol consumption results in 40%-70% of all cases of chronic pancreatitis. And it increases the risk of pancreatic cancer. Moreover, recurrent acute pancreatitis can develop into chronic pancreatitis if the individual is a chronic alcohol abuser. Most studies have shown that chronic pancreatitis injury still exists to some degree at the onset of the episode of acute pancreatitis.
How Does Pancreatitis Develop?
The complete pathophysiology of alcohol pancreatitis is not known. However, pancreatitis results from the effects of alcohol on the small ducts and acinar cells in the pancreas. Alcohol causes pancreatic secretions to precipitate and increase viscosity. This, in turn, results in protein plug development in small ducts. Protein plug obstruction is one of the early occurrences of chronic pancreatitis.
Protein plugs then lead to the formation of calculi, further inflammation, and fibrosis. As a result, islets, ductal and acinar cells are lost. Alcohol also prematurely activates lysosomal, trypsinogen, and other enzymes within the acinar cells. As a result of which, the pancreatic tissue starts to digest itself and causes further inflammation.
What Are The Symptoms Of Alcohol Pancreatitis?
Ings and symptoms of pancreatitis are nausea, pain in the upper abdomen, and vomiting. The individual may also experience severe pain that goes into the back. Although, as mentioned earlier, there are two forms of alcoholic pancreatitis, the symptoms of these conditions are:
The painful attack that occurs suddenly but lasts for days is acute pancreatitis. Following are the symptoms of acute pancreatitis:
- Low blood pressure
- Low-grade fever
- Increased heart rate
- Back pain
- Severe abdominal pain
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin, mucous membranes, and whites of the eyes)
- Swollen and tender abdomen
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
Recurrent attacks of acute pancreatitis result in chronic pancreatitis, which is irreversible damage to the pancreas. The sustained damage causes a decrease in the secretion of enzymes that play a role in fat absorption and digestion. This leads to loss of digestive function as time progresses. Individuals with pancreatic damage are also prone to the development of diabetes as a result of β-cells destruction.
Some of the common symptoms of chronic pancreatitis are as follow:
- Abdominal pain
- Onset of diabetes
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss
- Pale coloured, oily stools
- Back pain
If you or your loved ones experience any of these signs and symptoms, don’t waste any time and seek help. Help4addiction professional is available to help 24/7. Just call 0203 955 7700.
How To Diagnose Alcohol Pancreatitis?
Diagnosis of alcohol pancreatitis can be problematic in the early stages. Your doctor will rule out other conditions with similar symptoms, such as pancreatic cancer or peptic ulcer. Hence, doctors may use different methods to diagnose the issue.
Moreover, your medical health professional will ask your family or personal medical history of alcohol pancreatitis, other health conditions. Doctors will also examine your body for abdominal pain, tenderness, or swelling.
Following tests are used to facilitate correct diagnosis:
Imaging tests are usually performed in outpatient settings without any need for anaesthesia for most tests. Some of the imaging tests conducted are:
Computed Tomography Scan (CT)
CT scan is a non-invasive diagnostic procedure that provides detailed information about the pancreas compared to a standard X-ray. In addition, it provides information about disorders or injuries related to the pancreas. It is, therefore, valid for the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer or pancreatitis.
Ultrasound can detect gallstones by using safe sound waves to create a picture of an organ’s structure. In addition, doctors may use ultrasound to rule out the cause of pancreatitis.
Pancreatic Function Test
Secretin is a hormone that causes the stomach, liver, and pancreas to release substances helpful for digestion. The pancreatic function test determines the ability of the pancreas to respond to secretin and how the pancreas is functioning. This, in turn, helps detect chronic pancreatitis.
Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)
Professionals use MRCP to view pancreatic ducts and bile ducts. It uses MRI to produce detailed pictures that help specialists diagnose pancreatitis.
For endoscopic ultrasound, the doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube into the small intestine. Turning on ultrasound attachment then creates pictures of bile ducts and pancreas.
Lab tests include blood tests and stool tests to help diagnose pancreatitis. Blood samples are tested for:
- High blood glucose
- High levels of lipase and amylase enzymes that the pancreas produces
- High level of blood fats
- Pancreatic cancer
- Signs of inflammation or infection in liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and bile ducts
Doctors ask for stool tests to find out fat malabsorption.
What Is The Treatment Of Alcohol Pancreatitis?
The treatment of alcohol pancreatitis is similar to pancreatitis caused by other factors. However, in alcohol pancreatitis, an additional step is the cessation of alcohol. Quitting alcohol will reduce symptoms. For this purpose, different therapy options help individuals prevent further episodes and to recover from them. Treatment options include medications, changing lifestyle, counselling, inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities, and supervised detoxification and withdrawal.
If you have acute pancreatitis, the doctor will treat you in the hospital and closely monitor the signs of any serious problem. The reason is that people with acute pancreatitis may develop complications that require you to be admitted to the hospital. Otherwise, people with mild acute pancreatitis usually get better within 48 hours to a week and don’t experience problems later.
You may be provided with fluids during treatment because acute pancreatitis can make you dehydrated and oxygen to ensure you are getting enough oxygen. Moreover, doctors prescribe painkillers and nutritional support because one may not be able to eat solid foods. Meanwhile, doctors treat other underlying conditions if present.
One must altogether avoid alcohol consumption after recovery. And if you have a dependency on alcohol, don’t hesitate to seek help and ask for support. At Help4addiction, professionals are at your service 24/7. Take free consultation online to find the right solution.
Alcohol pancreatitis is a severe condition that can severely damage the pancreas and its functioning. If you identify the signs or you recognise them in someone else, make sure you contact the medical health professional as soon as possible. Moreover, one must completely avoid alcohol consumption even after recovery.
If you have a dependency on alcohol, don’t hesitate to seek help and ask for support. At Help4addiction, professionals are at your service 24/7. Take free consultation online to find the right solution.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the main sign of pancreatitis?
Can I drink alcohol if I have pancreatitis?
Can pancreatitis lead to death?
Do you have to be hospitalised for alcohol pancreatitis?
How does alcohol make pancreatitis worse?
What are other conditions that have similar symptoms to alcohol pancreatitis?
However, a history of alcohol consumption, abdominal pain patterns, imaging findings, and elevated lipase can help diagnose alcohol pancreatitis by ruling out other conditions.
How is Alcohol pancreatitis diagnosed?
- Chronic pancreatitis: review and update of aetiology, risk factors, and management
- Association between alcohol intake and the risk of pancreatic cancer: a dose-response meta-analysis of cohort studies
- Alcohol consumption on pancreatic diseases
- Alcoholic pancreatitis: New insights into the pathogenesis and treatment
- Alcohol-related Pancreatitis