What is Alcoholic Pancreatitis?

Alcoholic pancreatitis

essentially refers to the severe infection and inflammation of pancreas brought about by persistent alcohol abuse. Pancreas is essentially a gland that has both digestive and endocrine functions. It secretes essential digestive enzymes like amylase and lipase which help to break down the food and assimilate the nutrients in the small intestine. It secretes the hormone insulin which is essential in metabolizing the sugar in food.
Pancreatitis essentially refers to a condition where in the tissues of the said organ are destroyed by a self digesting action of the pancreatic enzymes caused by the obstruction of the pancreatic ducts.
The mortality rates of patients suffering from the disease is 36% higher than with sober pancreatic patients. About half the patients with this variation of pancreatitis die within 20 years of diagnosis. It is more common in men than women.

Acute Pancreatitis

Symptoms of Alcoholic Pancreatitis

Long term alcohol abuse has been found to cause both acute pancreatitis and chronic pancreatitis.

The symptoms of acute pancreatitis are as follows:

  • Abdominal pain and tenderness.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Pancreatic edemas.
  • Pancreatic hemorrhage.
  • Increased levels of the pancreatic enzymes amylase and lipase.
  • Necrosis or tissue destruction and degeneration.

Alcohol induced chronic pancreatitis has the imminent symptoms of the acute version with the following long term damages:

  • Fibrosis or the formation of excess connective tissue in the pancreas.
  • Inflammation and calcification or the formation of calcium salts in the pancreatic soft tissue.
  • It causes the early onset of diabetes.
  • It is also known to progress into pancreatic cancer.

Mechanism of metabolizing alcohol in the pancreas

Alcohol used for drinking is basically ethanol or ethyl alcohol. When ethyl alcohol is metabolized in the pancreas, it is broken down into acetaldehyde. This acetaldehyde is further broken down into acetic acid radicals or acetyl radicals. Acetaldehyde is a poison and can induce tissue damage and injury through genotoxicity. This may cause premature activation of the pancreatic enzymes lipase and amylase and induce auto digestion leading to pancreatic injury.


  • The condition is diagnosed on the basis of the symptoms like vomiting, abdominal pain etc.
  • Blood Tests will reveal a higher level of the enzymes lipase and amylase generally confirming the diagnosis.
  • Ultrasound of the abdomen, CT Scan, X-rays etc are other investigations which will reveal the condition.

Treatment of Alcoholic Pancreatitis

  • Intensive care is needed with complete avoidance of feeding by mouth. Nasogastric feeding and intravenous rehydration is continued to give the pancreas some rest.
  • Rest and pain relief medications are commonly suggested.
  • Treatment with antibiotics is needed to treat any recurrent infection.
  • The most important treatment is to stay away from alcohol and give it up completely.

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