Alcohol Abuse And Acute Pancreatitis
If I were to ask you what health risks are associated with excessive drinking, what would you say? Cirrhosis of the liver? Heart disease? A weakened immune system? You’d be correct—those are all health risks associated with excessive drinking. But another common though less talked about problem is pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis is a condition in which digestive enzymes that are typically activated in the small intestine instead become active in the pancreas. Pancreatitis can either be chronic (long term) or acute (sudden), and symptoms of acute pancreatitis often include:
- Severe, steady pain in the upper-middle part of the abdomen that sometimes spreads to the back and shoulders.
- Low-grade fever
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lowered blood pressure
- Abdominal bloating or tenderness
- Clammy skin
If not promptly treated, acute pancreatitis can become a serious and even life-threatening condition. Thankfully, with proper treatment most patients are able to recover from acute attacks and avoid serious complications. But even after a patient recovers, additional steps are usually needed to address the root cause of the pancreatitis.
If alcohol abuse is the underlying cause (the other common cause is gallstones), doctors will recommend that the patient completely eliminate alcohol consumption. After an acute attack of pancreatitis, continued alcohol consumption is dangerous, and can lead to future attacks and the development of chronic pancreatitis.
Once pancreatitis becomes chronic, a variety of other health complications – such as diabetes, nutritional deficiencies, and chronic pain – can occur. And, perhaps most significantly, patients with chronic pancreatitis are three times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer at some point in their lives.
While any instance of pancreatitis needs to be addressed by an experienced doctor, patients can play a vital role in their own recovery by taking proactive steps to promote a healthy pancreas.
- Develop a healthy diet – A diet high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables and low in high fat foods.
- Check out "Pancreas and Nutrition: Your Diet for Pancreatitis" by Deb Gerzberg, RD, CNSC, CDN, the clinical nutritionist at Columbia’s Pancreas Center.
- Exercise regularly and lose excess weight – Overweight individuals are more likely to develop gallstones, putting them at a higher risk of developing pancreatitis.
- Quit smoking – Smoking may increase your risk of developing pancreatitis.
- Quit drinking alcohol
Check out our website for more information on how to maintain a healthy pancreas: