Many health conditions can be caused by excessive drinking, made worse by alcohol or may in some way have a relationship with drinking. One of these is pancreatitis. Below we cover the possible relationships between alcohol and pancreatitis, and more specifically, alcohol-induced pancreatitis.
There are two types of pancreatitis, one of which is acute and the other is chronic pancreatitis.
Acute pancreatitis is a sudden inflammation of the pancreas that only lasts for a short period of time, and symptoms and outcomes can range from mild to severe. In the majority of instances, people recover from acute pancreatitis, although it can become severe when there’s bleeding into the pancreas, or severe damage or infection. In some cases, severe acute pancreatitis can cause damage to the lungs, kidneys, and heart.
There’s also chronic pancreatitis. This is a long-term inflammation of the pancreas, and it usually occurs after someone has had acute pancreatitis. Along with acute pancreatitis being a cause, heavy alcohol use is another reason for it. Chronic pancreatitis can also be known as alcohol-induced pancreatitis.
Some of the symptoms of acute pancreatitis include pain in the upper abdomen that seems to be triggered by eating fatty foods, tenderness or swelling of the abdomen, nausea and vomiting, fever and increased heart rate.
The symptoms of alcohol-induced pancreatitis or chronic pancreatitis are similar, but the pain may be constant in the upper abdomen and back. With alcohol induced pancreatitis, people may experience weight loss and malnutrition, and diabetes can develop because the cells that make insulin can become damaged.
One of the theories is that alcohol causes the cells of the pancreas to begin to malfunction. While the exact link between alcohol and acute pancreatitis isn’t fully understood, medical professionals do know that the more you drink and the longer you are a drinker, the more likely you are to have acute pancreatitis.
With chronic or alcohol-induced pancreatitis, you’re more likely to get this condition following several cases of acute pancreatitis stemming from alcohol use. Over time as you get repeated cases of acute pancreatitis it damages your pancreas. Doctors and researchers say that around seven out of 10 chronic pancreatitis cases are related to heavy, long-term drinking. There’s also the belief that smoking and drinking together can put you at an even higher risk of damage to the pancreas.
Alcohol-induced pancreatitis is one of the primary reasons people develop this condition, and researchers show that excessive alcohol use for a period of 5 to 10 years usually leads up to the first case of acute alcohol-induced pancreatitis. Contrary to what some people believe, a single instance of binge drinking isn’t going to lead to acute pancreatitis.
With alcohol-induced pancreatitis, the more you drink, the more you are at risk of developing the condition, and this is likely because alcohol has a toxic effect on the pancreas. Alcohol is metabolized by the pancreas, and if you drink too much you’re putting excessive stress on it, and you’re causing it to have problems in functionality.
If you have a case of acute alcohol-induced pancreatitis, the best thing you can do is follow your doctor’s instructions and cut out alcohol, as well as start following a healthy, low-fat diet. If you eliminate alcohol and eat a healthy diet, you’re more likely to be able to avoid a future pancreatitis attack, and ultimately chronic pancreatitis as well.
However, if you do develop chronic alcohol-induced pancreatitis, the prognosis is not so good. The damaging relationship between alcohol and pancreatitis is difficult to reverse once it’s chronic, and you will likely need lifelong medication. Medication for chronic alcohol-induced pancreatitis is intended to aid in digestion and to keep blood sugar levels in check.
With alcohol and pancreatitis, there are other conditions you may be at a higher risk of as well. One of these is diabetes. It’s estimated that around 1/3 of people with chronic pancreatitis also have diabetes. Having chronic pancreatitis can also raise a person’s risk of having pancreatic cancer.
Regardless of whether you have acute or chronic pancreatitis, the most important thing is to stop using alcohol.
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