19 May 2019
Excessive alcohol consumption is a major cause of acute pancreatitis. Photo: Bloomberg
Excessive alcohol consumption is a major cause of acute pancreatitis. Photo: Bloomberg

Cut alcohol consumption to prevent acute pancreatitis

Mr. Chan loves eating and drinking a lot. During the Lunar New Year holiday, he couldn’t help himself and overindulged in food and alcohol.

A few days after, he felt extremely unwell with an intense abdominal pain and non-stop vomiting by midnight. He was rushed to the hospital.

The doctor observed that he had an elevated pulse rate and symptoms of infection. So an ultrasound scan of his abdomen was immediately conducted.

The examination showed the presence of gallstones while the top of his pancreas appeared swollen.

The doctor concluded that Chan was in a critical condition and had to be admitted to the ward for further physical examination.

The patient’s blood amylase level was 3,000 units per liter (U/L). This is considered dangerously high as the normal level is around 100 U/L.

A computerized tomography (CT) scan indicated that Chan’s pancreas and its peripherals were swollen and inflamed.

Both results confirmed that he had acute pancreatitis.

Acute pancreatitis is a serious condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed over a short period of time.

When small gallstones escape from the gall bladder via the bile duct to the duodenum, there’s a slight chance that it would block the opening of the pancreas.

The blockage might cause the influx of pancreatic juice back to the organ, where enzymes normally used for the digestion of food now attack the pancreas instead.

Fortunately, Chan’s condition was not too severe. With intravenous injection and painkillers, the inflammation of the pancreas went away by itself, while the gallstones were taken away through an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatogram (ERCP).

The minimally invasive cholecystectomy for the removal of the gall bladder was also recommended to Chan to prevent the reoccurrence of the illness.

Alcohol consumption is a major cause of acute pancreatitis.

Frequent drinkers might have a higher chance of developing chronic pancreatitis. Though it doesn’t pose imminent threat to life, it could damage the pancreas and disrupt the production of insulin, and this could lead to diabetes.

The mortality rate of acute pancreatitis depends on the severity of the condition and the age of the patient. The older the patient, the higher would be the rate.

Combined with necrotizing pancreatitis, the rate could be as high as 30 percent.

Each year more than 100,000 lives are lost due to pancreatitis.

To prevent this illness, it is best to avoid alcohol, follow a light diet of healthy food and undergo physical checkup regularly.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 13.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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