Acute alcohol pancreatitis: when the pancreas warns you that you have gone over the edge

Alcohol is a toxic substance for the pancreas and excessive consumption can cause acute pancreatitis, a specific inflammation in that organ, which if not taken care of or recurrent, can eventually lead to chronic pancreatitis, much more serious.

Most acute pancreatitis is caused by stones in the gallbladder and bile ducts, a condition that affects women more than men.

But in the case of acute pancreatitis caused by alcohol, men are the most numerous patients: three out of four, according to information from the University Clinic of Navarra, attached to the University of Northern Spain.

The famous Swedish DJ Avicii, who died unexpectedly at the age of 28 for unknown causes at the age of 28, had suffered from acute pancreatitis a few years ago.

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Tim Bergling

Tim Bergling, 28, was found dead in Oman.

In 2012 the DJ spent 11 days in the hospital because this problem, judged by his later statements, was caused by excessive alcohol consumption.

"Drinking became a routine for me, but it is impossible to stay on tour and at the same time, because you end up being hit", he told the Standard newspaper. "Especially if you do 320 concerts a year."

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What happens to the pancreas with alcohol abuse?

The incidence of pancreatic diseases of alcoholic origin is increasing worldwide.

25% of deaths from pancreatitis worldwide in 2012 were due to alcohol, according to the 2014 World Health Organization report on the global status of alcohol and health.

"However, it is not known with certainty how alcohol causes damage in pancreatic tissue," according to a 2015 article published in the journal of non-communicable diseases Finlay, published by the University of Medical Sciences of Cienfuegos, in Cuba.

According to the authors, "at the moment there are only theories about such action, because of the difficulty of studying the pancreas because of its location in the human body."

The pancreas is a long, flat gland behind the stomach, in the upper abdomen.

Image of the stomach, pancreas and gall bladder.

It fulfills a dual function: it produces enzymes that work together with the digestion and hormones that help regulate the way in which the organism processes sugar (glucose).

As explained by the Mayo Clinic, a medical institution of reference in the United States, when pancreatitis occurs, digestive enzymes are activated while in the pancreas, which irritates the cells of that gland and causes inflammation.

More risk with "binge drinking"

Friends drinking beer

Three out of four patients with acute pancreatitis due to alcohol are men.

The average age at which acute pancreatitis occurs due to alcohol is between 30 and 50 years.

According to the article from the Finlay magazine, "the disease manifests itself between ten to twenty years of alcohol consumption".

And it is estimated that the great drunkenness, what they call in English "binge drinking", or" binge "of alcohol, increases the risk of suffering from this condition.

"The risk of acute alcoholic pancreatitis increases with the amount of alcohol ingested, not with the frequency of its use, only 15% of people with chronic alcoholism will suffer from acute pancreatitis," the article says.

Banal or deadly prediction

The prognosis of acute pancreatitis is very variable.

Although most patients with acute pancreatitis start to feel better after a week and may not have any problems, for others with severe acute pancreatitis, the problem can become serious or even fatal if it is complicated.

Young people drink

Occasionally, pancreatitis associated with alcohol consumption may remain mild and undetected by the patient. But they can also cause damage in the long term.

The most common symptom of this condition is sudden, severe pain in the upper abdomen, which patients can feel backwards.

Moreover, it is usually accompanied by dizziness, nausea or vomiting.

Many times the patient feels pain relief by bending the trunk forward and putting himself in a fetal position.

According to information from the Clínica de Navarra, the beginning of this abdominal pain is abrupt and precise. It is also progressive and can last from a few hours to weeks or months, depending on the severity and progress of each case.

Occasionally, pancreatitis associated with alcohol use can be mild and recurrent, such as "mini-pancreatitis," which may remain undetected by the patient.

But it is also possible that they lead to chronic pain or chronic pancreatitis, where there is already an irreversible destruction of the pancreatic function or certain losses of that function.

A pancreas that works poorly can lead to digestive problems and diabetes.

What complications can have

The treatment of acute pancreatitis is done in hospitals and when it is severe, in the intensive care unit. According to the Mayo Clinic are among the complications that may have acute pancreatitis

  • pseudocysts in the gland, which can lead to complications such as internal bleeding and infections.
  • infection. If it is severe, it may require intensive treatment, such as surgery, to remove the infected tissue.
  • Renal insufficiency, which can be treated with dialysis if the kidney failure is severe and persistent.
  • Breathing problems, caused by chemical changes in the body that affect the functioning of the lungs, causing the oxygen level in the blood to drop to dangerously low levels.
  • diabetescaused by damage to the cells that produce insulin in the pancreas, which affects the way your body uses blood sugar levels.
  • malnutrition. Damage to the pancreas can cause the gland to produce fewer enzymes needed to break down and process nutrients from the food you eat. This can cause malnutrition, diarrhea and weight loss, although you continue to eat as before.
  • Pancreatic cancer. Chronic pancreatitis is a risk factor for developing pancreatic cancer.

According to information from the Mexican Social Security Institute, in severe cases where the destruction of pancreatic tissue occurs, known as "pancreatic necrosis", it is, if complicated by infection, "a high risk of death".

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