80 000 People develop pancreatitis each year, pancreatitis is a leading cause of hospitalization and alcohol abuse is a leading cause of the painful disorder. About half of all patients admitted to hospital with alcohol induced pancreatitis will die within 20 years.
What is Pancreatitis?
The pancreas is a gland like organ, nestled below the stomach, that produces enzymes needed for the digestion of food in the small intestine, and also hormones, such as insulin, that regulate blood sugar levels.
During an attack of pancreatitis, the pancreas becomes inflamed, and the digestive enzymes normally released into the small intestines are instead released on the pancreas and surrounding tissue. These enzymes cause cell death; they literally cause the pancreas to consume itself.
Pancreatitis can be excruciatingly painful, as digestion becomes impaired, and enzymes destroy tissue. Frequent or severe attacks of pancreatitis cause scarring in the pancreas, which leads to reduced pancreatic functioning, and a greater likelihood of increased episodes of pancreatitis.
Most pancreatitis is experienced as an acute and transient disorder. In some cases, after a very severe case, or after multiple acute instances, a patient may develop a constant chronic form of pancreatitis.
What Causes Pancreatitis?
The two most common causes of pancreatitis are alcohol abuse and gall stones. Although alcohol is known to damage the pancreas, doctors can’t say why or how it does, or why only about 10% of heavy drinkers will experience the disorder.
What Are the Symptoms of Pancreatitis?
The singular most common symptom of pancreatitis is pain. Abdominal pain begins suddenly and reaches full intensity, usually within a half an hour. The pain is felt in the center of the abdomen, just under the rib cage and is described as intense and constant. In some cases, patients can find some release by bending forward, or lying on their sides.
In moderate cases, symptoms will subside within 3 days to a week. In more severe cases, pain can last for weeks. Other symptoms can include fever, weakness, bloating, shock and nausea and vomiting.
Because digestive enzyme functioning is impaired, eating will usually cause increased pain. Eating causes the increased release of pancreatic enzymes – the enzymes which are the source of the abdominal pain.
Most people with pancreatitis will need to be admitted to a hospital, for pain management. Doctors will prescribe pain medications and fluids and nutrition will be given intravenously. There is little that doctors can do to shorten an episode of the disorder and in most cases bed rest and symptoms management are the only treatments available.
In some cases, a tube may be inserted through the nose and into the stomach, as a way to suction off excess stomach acid causing vomiting.
90% of patients with acute pancreatitis will get better, essentially, on their own. In 10% of cases, complications develop that may require medications or surgery to correct.
For alcohol induced pancreatitis, the most important treatment is the future and forever abstainment from alcohol.
Who Is at Risk?
Drinking more than 12 alcoholic drinks per day (for men) dramatically increases the risks for pancreatitis, and once you have had pancreatitis once, you are at greater risk to have a re-occurring episode.
Men are far more likely than women to experience alcohol induced pancreatitis. The most commonly seen patients experiencing the disorder are hard drinking males, in their 40's.
Pancreatitis Means the End of Alcohol Use
For anyone experiencing alcohol induced pancreatitis, there can be no further denial of the extent of the problem. Further drinking will more than likely bring more frequent attacks of the painful condition, and a likely early death. The only answer is to stop drinking, forever.
Page last updated Aug 05, 2010