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How Does Alcohol Use Affect The Pancreas?

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Alcohol use is a major health concern in the United States. About 27 percent of people 18 and older reported engaging in binge drinking in the past month, a 2015 survey found. Alcohol has many unwanted side effects and prolonged use can cause permanent damage to some organs, like the pancreas.

Why Use Of Alcohol Can Cause Pancreatic Damage

There is no significant data on occasional drinking leading to this kind of health concern.

However, it has been shown that anywhere for five to ten years of alcohol use typically leads to an initial onset of acute alcoholic pancreatitis episodes.

This is more likely to happen in people who are abusing the substance. The more you drink, the more likely you are to have more frequent episodes of acute pancreatitis. This increases the risk of developing chronic pancreatitis.

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The risk of developing this disease is increased in proportion with the amount of alcohol consumed because alcohol is partially metabolized by the pancreas, causing oxidative stress to the gland. The oxidative stress state occurs because the enzymes produced to break up the alcohol molecules are also strong enough to break apart the cells in the pancreas. Making it more likely to eat away at itself if there are leftover enzymes.

These excess enzymes can lead to excess collagen (fat) being produced in the pancreas which is the key factor in identifying the beginning stages of pancreatic fibrosis, or chronic pancreatitis. This is when the pancreas becomes inflamed and stays that way.

Chronic pancreatitis can develop in anyone at any age, however, it is most likely to occur in middle-aged men between 45 and 54 years of age. Over 35,000 people visited hospitals in England, between 2012 and 2013, for chronic pancreatitis.

Signs And Symptoms Of Pancreatic Problems

About seven out of 10 cases of chronic pancreatitis are caused by long-term heavy alcohol use.

Signs of pancreatic burn out include:

  • Recurring severe pain behind the ribs and back
  • Weight loss
  • Greasy poop
  • Back pain
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)

These symptoms are more likely to occur if you smoke tobacco. Cigarettes are thought to increase the harmful effects of alcohol has on the pancreas.

Alcohol Can Cause Irreversible Pancreatic Damage

Acute pancreatitis is temporary, and usually subsides in two to four weeks time. One episode of acute pancreatitis does not set you up to have chronic pancreatitis but it does increase your risk of developing it the more acute episodes you have.

Stopping the consumption of alcohol is the only sure-fire way to mitigate the risks of developing pancreatic inflammation. Chronic pancreatitis is a serious health condition. It can be very painful and leave you taking medication regularly to assist with basic digestion and maintaining blood sugar levels.

Chronic Pancreatitis Increases Risk Of Other Diseases

Living with chronic pain caused by chronic pancreatitis can cause mental and physical strain on a person. It is possible to experience increased stress, anxiety, and depression while suffering from chronic pancreatitis.

Once the damage to the pancreas is done, it no longer functions like it normally would. The pancreas is responsible for the production of insulin, which helps maintain normal blood sugar levels. About a third of people with chronic pancreatitis have diabetes

People suffering from chronic pancreatitis also have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Treatment For Pancreatic Damage

In general, treatment for this condition aims to reduce the symptoms felt by the permanent damage. Some of the biggest lifestyle changes include avoiding alcohol, quitting smoking, and adjusting your diet.

Avoiding alcohol is arguably the most difficult of those three changes to make on your own. People you have consistently used alcohol over a long time period are more likely to be suffering from dependence on alcohol. If this is the case, additional support may be beneficial to stop drinking.

A minimum of a 30-day stay at an inpatient alcohol rehab center is generally the first course of action individuals struggling with alcoholism take. The first step of this process is a medical detoxification.

Similar to other detoxes, ridding your body of alcohol takes time. This depends on how much was consumed and for how long. It takes about an hour for the body to metabolize one ounce of alcohol. Initial detox usually only take seven to 10 days. However, to ensure that you have kicked the cravings it is best to stay in treatment for at least 30 days.

In a study from Finland, researchers split a group of 120 patients who had been admitted to the hospital for acute pancreatitis. The first group was given a one-time 30 min motivational intervention against alcohol consumption, prior to being discharged.

The second group, was given several interventions once every six months for two years. Each intervention consisted of the relevance of alcohol consumption to pancreatitis, the need for change in drinking habits, and the personal responsibility of the person for their condition.

As a result, there were fewer people in the second group that were readmitted to the hospital for another acute pancreatitis episode than in the first group. There were also noticeable differences in the alcohol consumption, and a decrease in alcohol dependencies between the two groups.

This study’s findings support the concept, that in medium term, specific interventions and alcohol counseling give better outcomes to patients looking to regain control of their lives.