The pancreas is responsible for producing enzymes that mix with bile to help digest foods. It also releases the hormones insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream to regulate blood glucose. Inflammation of the pancreas can occur for many reasons and this is known as pancreatitis. Symptoms can include abdominal pain and tenderness, nausea, vomiting and fever.
Pancreatitis caused by consuming large amounts of alcohol can develop suddenly with severe pain. Multiple studies have been done to understand how alcohol causes pancreatitis, but the reason is still unclear. One theory is that alcohol's toxic effects change the metabolism of special cells in the pancreas that leads to scarring of the pancreatic tissue. Another theory is that the chemical reactions between the breakdown of alcohol and pancreatic fluids form small plugs that clog up the pancreas or obstruct the flow of pancreatic fluids.
Alcohol abuse causes about 30% of acute pancreatitis cases. It is also a common cause of chronic pancreatitis. Chronic pancreatitis can be triggered by one acute attack that damages the pancreatic duct. This damaged duct traps digestive enzymes which normally don’t become active until reaching the small intestine. When the fluid’s flow is obstructed the enzymes are activated inside the pancreas. The enzymes attack and damage the pancreas causing scar tissue to form. As the scar tissue develops the pancreas is slowly destroyed.
Pancreatitis can cause many other health complications. They include but are not limited to; infection, kidney failure, diabetes, malnutrition, breathing problems and pancreatic cancer. If you are concerned about developing pancreatitis due to alcohol consumption talk to one of the doctors at GI Associates about how much alcohol is too much.