While it carries similar symptoms to acute and chronic pancreatitis, alcoholic pancreatitis is caused by heavy, regular alcohol consumption.
Alcohol-related diseases are well documented. Overconsumption takes a toll on the body and can lead to poor health outcomes. In particular, pancreatitis is one of many conditions that can be brought on by heavy drinking.
While pancreatitis simply refers to inflammation in the organ, alcoholic pancreatitis means that the condition is directly linked to excessive alcohol consumption.
Learn the symptoms and what you need to know if you suspect that you or someone you care about might be experiencing this condition.
Alcohol is a cause of acute and chronic pancreatitis.
One of the most common symptoms is widespread abdominal pain that often shifts to the back. However, in some cases, symptoms might not appear until the disease has significantly progressed. Other symptoms can include:
While experts know that excessive drinking can contribute to developing pancreatitis, there’s no consensus on the exact amount of alcohol a person must consume to trigger inflammation. However, the
It’s important to note that drinking alone is not enough to diagnose a person with pancreatitis. So a thorough review is required to confirm if an individual has the disease. Also, keep in mind that there aren’t extensive studies that solely look at alcohol’s relationship with pancreatitis and quantify how many drinks a person has to consume to potentially be at risk for developing the condition.
- having an abdominal injury
- being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer or gallstones
- having certain viral or parasitic infections
- having genetic disorders that affect the pancreas
- having a congenital condition known as pancreas divisum
- having previously undergone endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) to treat an unrelated condition
- developing blockages in the pancreatic duct
- having high levels of fat or calcium in the blood
- taking certain medications
Physicians typically use a range of testing protocols to diagnose alcoholic pancreatitis.
The first step is usually requesting a medical history as well as performing a physical exam. During this time, if alcohol is suspected as one of the main contributors, your physician may talk with you about how much you drink and why you may need to restrict alcohol consumption moving forward.
It’s important to let your physician know if your medical history includes any of the risk factors mentioned above or if you experience any of the symptoms that are consistent with pancreatitis.
Likewise, they may ask if there’s a family history of pancreatitis or gallstones. Having a family history can also contribute to developing pancreatitis. All this information will help your doctor gain a better understanding of your symptoms.
But most importantly, you’ll also undergo lab and imaging tests to confirm or eliminate that pancreatitis is present. Lab work can include providing a stool sample to look for excess fats, which is a sign of malabsorption.
Blood tests are the most common and include looking for signs such as:
- high blood sugar levels
- high lipase or amylase (digestive enzymes) levels
- high lipid (blood fats) levels
- inflammation or infection in the bile ducts, pancreas, liver, or gallbladder
Additionally, an imaging test such as an ultrasound or MRI can help quickly identify gallstones or signs of inflammation. These two tests are usually performed in an outpatient facility and do not require anesthesia. CT scans may also be a diagnostic option.
For a more thorough review of your pancreas or bile ducts, your doctor might recommend an endoscopic ultrasound (EUS), which requires inserting an endoscope down your throat and through your stomach and intestines to create more precise pictures.
Likewise, some doctors might recommend taking a pancreatic function test. The test measures how well your pancreas responds to the secretin hormone that the small intestines produce.
Many factors can contribute to pancreatitis. However, research shows that excessive alcohol consumption can quickly increase inflammation in the pancreas, creating the same effect as acute or chronic pancreatitis caused by other factors.
It’s important to see a doctor if you exhibit any of the early symptoms such as abdominal pain that are associated with pancreatitis.