Alcohol – How it affects your pancreas

The pancreas is a vital organ in charge of producing and secreting enzymes which break down food and digests it in the stomach. The pancreas also secrets insulin which controls and breaks down the blood sugar. Regular consumption of alcohol may lead to pancreatitis among other pancreas affections.


Up to 70% of pancreatitis cases usually involve regular heavy consumption of alcohol, the causes for the rest 30% being cases of viral or medication induced autoimmune related affections, or the causes are unknown.


Acute and chronic pancreatitis


There are two types of pancreatitis: acute and chronic, and both are related to alcohol consumption.


Acute pancreatitis is when the pancreas becomes inflamed but it does not last more than a few days and there isn’t usually any permanent damage. But one in 5 cases of acute pancreatitis is severe as enzymes from the pancreas can get in the blood stream and cause more serious problems like kidney failure.

Acute pancreatitis symptoms include: fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain behind the ribs that spreads to the back.


Chronic pancreatitis is when their is an inflammation of the pancreas which usually occurs in acute pancreatitis, does not go away, thus causing the pancreas to not work properly.

Symptoms will include: weight loss, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), recurring severe pain in the abdominal and back region, producing greasy and foul smelling feces.


Alcohol and pancreatitis


In acute pancreatitis cases, specialists are not exactly sure how alcohol causes this condition and have come up with some theories, but whatever the cause, there is a clear link between drinking alcohol and acute pancreatitis. One theory is that the molecules in alcohol interfere with the cells in the pancreas, stopping them from working properly. They have also discovered that rare consumption rarely leads to acute pancreatitis but it’s best not to take risks.

For chronic pancreatitis, specialists have discovered that getting acute pancreatitis due to regular and heavy alcohol consumption will cause permanent damage to the pancreas. This gets worse if there is smoking involved.


Prevention and treatment


The best way to avoid pancreatitis is to control the amount of alcohol you ingest. If you drink occasionally small amount of alcohol, the chances of getting alcohol induced pancreatitis are very slim.


If diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis the first and most important thing that can be done is to stop drinking alcohol. This will reduce the symptoms and pain that comes with them. Stopping drinking will also reduce and stop any further pancreas damage. If you continue drinking, the pain will increase both in length and intensity and worse still, there’s a high chance to develop a more severe pancreas affection such as pancreatic cancer.


In acute pancreatitis, even though it might not be caused necessarily by alcohol, avoiding drinking completely for at least 6 months will give your pancreas time to recover.


Medicated treatment is usually prescribed by a medical specialist and involves pain medication, IV fluids accompanied by a strict diet.