Alcoholic Pancreatitis


Article Author:
Anton Klochkov


Article Editor:
Yan Sun


Editors In Chief:
Sebastiano Cassaro
Joseph Lee
Tanya Egodage


Managing Editors:
Avais Raja
Orawan Chaigasame
Carrie Smith
Abdul Waheed
Khalid Alsayouri
Kyle Blair
Trevor Nezwek
Radia Jamil
Erin Hughes
Patrick Le
Anoosh Zafar Gondal
Saad Nazir
William Gossman
Hassam Zulfiqar
Navid Mahabadi
Hussain Sajjad
Steve Bhimji
Muhammad Hashmi
John Shell
Matthew Varacallo
Heba Mahdy
Ahmad Malik
Abbey Smiley
Sarosh Vaqar
Mark Pellegrini
James Hughes
Beata Beatty
Daniyal Ameen
Altif Muneeb
Beenish Sohail
Nazia Sadiq
Hajira Basit
Phillip Hynes
Komal Shaheen
Sandeep Sekhon


Updated:
7/31/2019 6:00:54 PM

Introduction

Alcohol use syndrome is one of the most common causes of both acute and chronic pancreatitis.

Acute pancreatitis (AP) is a necro-inflammatory disease resulting from exocrine cell destruction by infiltrating inflammatory cells. The diagnostic criteria are typically when a patient presents with characteristic symptoms, elevated lipase levels, and distinct imaging findings. Treatment is mostly supportive as there is no specific pharmacotherapy for this disease. Acute pancreatitis will either resolve with the pancreas fully regenerating, lead to transient organ failure, or progress to cause systemic inflammation and multi-organ failure. In these severe cases, treatment may require antibiotics and more invasive therapies.

Chronic pancreatitis (CP) is believed to result from recurrent attacks of acute pancreatitis, leading to the development of pancreatic insufficiency, steatorrhea, diabetes, pancreatic calcification, and fibrosis.  While alcohol and its by-products alone do not directly cause this disease, they can predispose the pancreas to damage from otherwise benign agents. As a result, one of the main strategies to prevent recurrent attacks involve providing alcohol (and smoking) cessation counseling and strategies to patients.

Etiology

Chronic alcohol consumption causes 17to 25% of acute pancreatitis cases worldwide and is the second most common cause of AP after gallstones.  It usually manifests in patients with over five years of ongoing, substantial alcohol use (~4-5 drinks daily) and only rarely occurs from isolated binge drinking. The type of alcohol ingested does not affect the risk of developing pancreatitis. Interestingly, while alcohol may sensitize the pancreas to damage by external and environmental factors such as genetics, high-fat diet, cigarette use, and infectious agents, relatively few people with alcohol use syndrome will develop pancreatitis (less than 5%).  Heavy smokers who drink more than 400g of alcohol per month are four times more likely to develop acute pancreatitis.  

Chronic alcohol consumption is the single most common cause of chronic pancreatitis, resulting in ~40 to 70% of all cases, and increases an individual's risk of developing pancreatic cancer by 20 times. Recurrent bouts of acute pancreatitis are associated with progression to chronic pancreatitis and are more common in chronic abusers of alcohol. Furthermore, most analyses suggest that some degree of chronic pancreatic injury already exists at the time of onset of an AP episode.  

The dose-response relationship between alcohol use and AP and CP is linear in men but non-linear for AP in women.[1][2][3][4][5]

Epidemiology

Acute pancreatitis is the number one cause of gastrointestinal related hospitalization in the United States and accounts for 2.6 billion dollars in healthcare spending and 279,000 annual admissions. Eighty percent of these patients present with mild, self-limited disease. Alcohol-related pancreatitis is more common in western countries and Japan. The annual incidence of acute pancreatitis is in the range of 13 to 45 per 100,000 people and chronic pancreatitis from 5 to 12 per 100,000 people and is proportionally highest in males between 35 and 54 years old. The overall mortality is now about 2% and usually associated with severe episodes of AP.[6][7]

Pathophysiology

The complete pathophysiology of this disease is not entirely understood, but likely results from alcohol’s effects on the small pancreatic ducts and acinar cells.  Alcohol is believed to cause precipitation and increases the viscosity of pancreatic secretions, which leads to the development of protein plugs in the small ducts, which then form calculi causing ulceration, scarring, and eventual acinar atrophy and fibrosis.

The pancreas uses oxidative and non-oxidative metabolism to process alcohol. The oxidative pathway leads to the formation of acetaldehyde, a reactive metabolite that causes detrimental effects in acinar cells through activation of stellate cells, increased expression of proinflammatory cytokines, and a decrease in NAD+/NADH ratios. The non-oxidative pathway requires the formation of fatty acid ethyl ester (FAEE) synthase, which leads to activation of key transcription factors, sustained increases in intracellular calcium, and inhibition of extracellular matrix proteins, ultimately leading to further cell injury.

Alcohol also leads to premature activation of trypsinogen and other digestive and lysosomal enzymes within the acinar cells themselves; this causes the pancreatic tissue to auto-digest and leads to further inflammation. Another contributing mechanism is intra-acinar activation of factor-kB (NF-kB), a transcriptional activator, which further drives the inflammatory response, which can cause up to 50% of pancreatic tissue damage and lead to severe, fatal inflammatory responses.[1][8][4]

History and Physical

Alcohol-induced pancreatitis occurs in the setting of prolonged, chronic alcohol use and its clinical features are similar to those of acute and chronic pancreatitis. Symptoms include nausea or vomiting and constant epigastric pain, which may also radiate to the mid-back or flanks. On examination, the abdomen may be normal or distended. In severe cases, alcohol-induced pancreatitis may be classically associated with periumbilical or flank ecchymosis, also known as Cullen’s or Grey Turner’s signs, respectively,  and represent significant peritoneal or retroperitoneal hemorrhage. Of note, pain may be less abrupt and poorly localized in alcoholic pancreatitis versus gallstone induced AP.  Severe presentations of AP may include peritonitis, sepsis, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), and/or shock. Chronic pancreatitis may display the additional features of pancreatic insufficiency, including steatorrhea secondary to fat malabsorption, and pancreatic diabetes secondary to endocrine cell destruction.

Evaluation

The diagnosis of acute pancreatitis requires that at least two of the following three criteria are met, based on the Revised Atlanta Classification system:

  • Characteristic clinical features
  • Laboratory evidence
  • Imaging suggestive of pancreatitis

Clinical features include constant upper abdominal pain, with or without radiation to the back, and tenderness of the abdomen with palpation. Laboratory criteria include a serum lipase of at least three times the upper limit of normal.  Lipase peaks more rapidly, remains elevated for a more extended period, and has a higher sensitivity and specificity than amylase. Testing for both enzymes does not improve sensitivity or specificity.  A hepatic panel, calcium level, and triglyceride level may help differentiate alcoholic from other causes of AP. Finally, CT with IV contrast is the imaging modality of choice and findings may include pancreatic enlargement, loss of pancreatic borders, surrounding fluid, and/or fat stranding. Areas of no enhancement indicate pancreatic necrosis. Imaging is normal in 15-30% of cases of mild pancreatitis and is not routinely indicated or needed for diagnosis. An exception to this rule is in cases where the patient does not respond to treatment after 48 hours, and further imaging can rule out other abdominal pathology or complications. Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is not beneficial in alcohol-induced pancreatitis unless there are signs of comorbid biliary etiology.[9]

Treatment / Management

Treatment and management of alcohol-induced pancreatitis follow the same principles as that for other causes of pancreatitis with the addition of alcohol cessation intervention during or after admission. Namely, these principles include accurate diagnosis, high-quality supportive care, recognizing and avoiding complications, and prevention of recurrence.  To accomplish this, clinicians employ goal-directed fluid therapy with either normal saline or lactated Ringers, give timely analgesics and antiemetics, and replete electrolyte as needed. The current recommendations are also to initiate feeding trials within 24 hours of disease onset instead of keeping the patient NPO. There are no clear indications for the type of diet, but typically small low-fat, soft or solid meals correlate with shorter hospital stays than starting a clear liquid diet with slow advancement to solid meals. Enteral feeds via a feeding tube is preferred to total parenteral nutrition in patients unable to tolerate PO. The AGA currently recommends against the use of prophylactic antibiotics in predicted severe AP and necrotizing pancreatitis. Additionally, providing brief alcohol intervention during admission or repeated counseling regularly at a primary care or gastrointestinal clinic appointments has been shown to decrease alcohol use, hospital admissions for recurrent attacks, and development of chronic pancreatitis.

Chronic pancreatitis pain can be managed with analgesics (avoiding high-potency opioids) and/or pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy. Antioxidants may be helpful in cases where other pharmaceutical options fail.  Endoscopic therapy or surgery are other options when pain is refractory to medical management.[10][11][12][8][5]

Differential Diagnosis

The differential diagnoses include, but are not limited to:

  • Pancreatitis secondary to other causes
  • Gastritis or gastroenteritis
  • Biliary disease secondary to obstructive or infectious pathology
  • Bowel perforation or obstruction
  • Nephrolithiasis
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Ischemic heart disease
  • Pneumonia
  • Aortic pathology

There is a broad differential diagnosis for this condition, as conditions affecting the gallbladder, stomach, or upper GI tract may present with a similar pain pattern. A history of frequent alcohol use, in combination with the characteristic abdominal pain patterns, elevated lipase, and imaging findings can help narrow down the differential.

Also, sickle cell crisis or diabetic ketoacidosis should also merit consideration in patients with a corresponding past medical history.

Staging

Many staging systems exist for prognostication of acute pancreatitis. Today the Atlanta classification is used to differentiate between acute and severe cases of acute pancreatitis which includes the following:

  • Presence of local complications- abscess, necrosis or pseudocyst
  • Evidence of organ injury (SBP less than 90, Cr more than 2 or GI bleeding more than 500 ml)
  • Ranson score of 3 or greater or APACHE score of 8 or higher

Prognosis

Various scoring systems have been created to predict the severity of acute pancreatitis based on clinical, laboratory, and radiology findings; however, they have largely demonstrated low specificity and low positive predictive values. These include Ranson’s criteria, the APACHE II score, BISAP, and the CT severity index, among others. Further, the American Pancreatic Association and the American College of Gastroenterology differ in their criteria for prognosticating a severe disease course. While the number of hospital admissions for acute pancreatitis is increasing and 15 to 25% of cases categorize as severe acute pancreatitis, the mortality rate has significantly decreased to 1 to 2% throughout the last ten years. A recent report showed that following an initial episode of acute alcoholic pancreatitis, there was a 24% chance for a recurrent AP episode and a 16% chance of developing chronic pancreatitis.[13]

Complications

Complications from this disease can have both localized and systemic effects including:

  • Acute peri-pancreatic fluid collection, seen as a homogenous fluid collection adjacent to the pancreas on CT imaging, usually beginning <4 weeks after symptoms onset
  • Pancreatic pseudocyst, seen as a walled-off fluid collection, usually arising >4 weeks from symptom onset
  • Necrotizing pancreatitis (5-10%), seen as an intra/extra-pancreatic heterogenous fluid collection and necrosis
  • Walled-off necrosis, seen as a heterogeneous collection of fluid and necrosis with a well-defined wall, usually occurring >4 weeks from symptom onset

Systemic complications include sepsis, bacteremia from the migration of intestinal flora, pleural effusions, ARDS, and shock.

Chronic pancreatitis patients are also at increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer, pancreatic diabetes, bile duct obstruction, and splenic vein thrombosis.

Consultations

Consultations from the following specialties may be necessary:

  • Gastroenterology
  • General Surgery
  • Radiology
  • Intensive Care Specialist
  • Endocrinology
  • Nutritionist
  • Psychiatrist

Deterrence and Patient Education

As mentioned above, patients with acute pancreatitis or chronic pancreatitis secondary to alcohol use should receive brief alcohol intervention when admitted to the hospital or receive alcohol counseling during their primary care or gastroenterology outpatient visits.

Pearls and Other Issues

Alcohol use syndrome is one of the most common causes of both acute and chronic pancreatitis, but likely requires other factors such as smoking and diet to manifest.

  • Alcohol-induced pancreatitis likely results from alcohol causing increased, viscous secretions that block small pancreatic ducts and by premature activation of digestive and lysosomal enzymes within acinar cells
  • Diagnosis of AP requires meeting at least two of the following three criteria: characteristic clinical features, lipase levels three times the upper limit of normal, and/or imaging suggestive of pancreatitis
  • Treatment includes a combination of goal-directed fluid therapy, pain control, antiemetics, electrolyte replacement, early enteral nutrition, and alcohol cessation counseling

Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes

Alcohol counseling has shown benefits to patients as it decreases total hospital admissions for acute pancreatitis. One randomized controlled trial showed that repeated counseling during gastroenterology clinic visits by an interprofessional team of physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and nurses decreases the risk of hospitalization for recurrent pancreatitis attacks. The team should report back to the team leader concerns or lack of patient compliance. Alcohol intervention strategies employed by the clinicians and nurses have also been shown to reduce alcohol consumption in men significantly. Smoking cessation and dietary modifications are also recommendations, as these are risk factors when combined with alcohol. Reducing both alcohol and tobacco consumption was shown to reduce the risk of recurrent attacks, the progression to chronic pancreatitis, and the development of secondary pancreatic malignancy. [Level I]

Patients with alcohol-induced pancreatitis usually need attention from many specialists including pain specialists, dietitians, mental health nurse, and pharmacists. At each refill for medications, the pharmacist should educate the patient about the harms of alcohol and the importance of abstaining from this beverage. If the patient is non-compliant, the pharmacist should inform the clinician of concerns.

For patients with uncomplicated chronic pancreatitis, medical management remains the first line of therapy. Behavior modification counseling for the cessation of alcohol consumption and smoking is also in order; therefore, certified therapists play a large role in patient outcomes. [Level 2b]

Since extraneous factors such as diet may play a synergistic role in leading to initial and recurrent episodes of pancreatitis, consultation with a nutritionist would benefit such patients. Patients should adhere to a low-fat diet and eat frequent small meals to decrease the stress on the pancreas. Endoscopic, surgical, or radiology guided interventions may be required for cases of pancreatic pain refractory to medical therapy and conservative measures or used to treat the complications associated with acute pancreatitis such as pancreatic necrosis.[12][14][15][10]


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Alcoholic Pancreatitis - Questions

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Which of the following is the most common cause of chronic pancreatitis in North America?



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A 45-year-old male with a history of chronic daily alcohol use comes to the emergency room with the complaint of constant, sharp epigastric pain and vomiting. Which of the following is true regarding acute alcoholic pancreatitis?



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A 35-year-old male with a history of alcohol abuse presents with epigastric pain and is diagnosed with acute alcoholic pancreatitis. What effect does alcohol have on the pancreas that leads to this disease?



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A 40-year-old female with a history of alcohol abuse, gallstones, and hyperlipidemia presents with abdominal pain and vomiting. Her lipase is three times the upper limit of normal and an abdominal CT shows pancreatitis. Which of the following features, if present, are more characteristic of alcohol as the inciting cause of her acute pancreatitis than the other causes of pancreatitis?



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A 35-year-old male with history of daily alcohol use for acute alcoholic pancreatitis. This is his second admission to the hospital for this issue. He continues to have abdominal pain, but his nausea and vomiting are well controlled at this time. Which of the following interventions or treatments holds a strong level of recommendation based on moderate quality evidence from the American Gastroenterological Association?



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Alcoholic Pancreatitis - References

References

Clemens DL,Schneider KJ,Arkfeld CK,Grode JR,Wells MA,Singh S, Alcoholic pancreatitis: New insights into the pathogenesis and treatment. World journal of gastrointestinal pathophysiology. 2016 Feb 15;     [PubMed]
DiMagno MJ, Oktoberfest binge drinking and acute pancreatitis: is there really no relationship? Clinical gastroenterology and hepatology : the official clinical practice journal of the American Gastroenterological Association. 2011 Nov;     [PubMed]
Ahmed Ali U,Issa Y,Hagenaars JC,Bakker OJ,van Goor H,Nieuwenhuijs VB,Bollen TL,van Ramshorst B,Witteman BJ,Brink MA,Schaapherder AF,Dejong CH,Spanier BW,Heisterkamp J,van der Harst E,van Eijck CH,Besselink MG,Gooszen HG,van Santvoort HC,Boermeester MA, Risk of Recurrent Pancreatitis and Progression to Chronic Pancreatitis After a First Episode of Acute Pancreatitis. Clinical gastroenterology and hepatology : the official clinical practice journal of the American Gastroenterological Association. 2016 May;     [PubMed]
Lankisch PG,Apte M,Banks PA, Acute pancreatitis. Lancet (London, England). 2015 Jul 4;     [PubMed]
Forsmark ChE,Vege SS,Wilcox CM, Acute Pancreatitis. The New England journal of medicine. 2017 Feb 9;     [PubMed]
Yadav D,Lowenfels AB, The epidemiology of pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. Gastroenterology. 2013 Jun;     [PubMed]
Peery AF,Crockett SD,Murphy CC,Lund JL,Dellon ES,Williams JL,Jensen ET,Shaheen NJ,Barritt AS,Lieber SR,Kochar B,Barnes EL,Fan YC,Pate V,Galanko J,Baron TH,Sandler RS, Burden and Cost of Gastrointestinal, Liver, and Pancreatic Diseases in the United States: Update 2018. Gastroenterology. 2018 Oct 10;     [PubMed]
Pham A,Forsmark C, Chronic pancreatitis: review and update of etiology, risk factors, and management. F1000Research. 2018;     [PubMed]
Shinagare AB,Ip IK,Raja AS,Sahni VA,Banks P,Khorasani R, Use of CT and MRI in emergency department patients with acute pancreatitis. Abdominal imaging. 2015 Feb;     [PubMed]
Crockett SD,Wani S,Gardner TB,Falck-Ytter Y,Barkun AN, American Gastroenterological Association Institute Guideline on Initial Management of Acute Pancreatitis. Gastroenterology. 2018 Mar;     [PubMed]
Vege SS,DiMagno MJ,Forsmark CE,Martel M,Barkun AN, Initial Medical Treatment of Acute Pancreatitis: American Gastroenterological Association Institute Technical Review. Gastroenterology. 2018 Mar;     [PubMed]
Nordback I,Pelli H,Lappalainen-Lehto R,Järvinen S,Räty S,Sand J, The recurrence of acute alcohol-associated pancreatitis can be reduced: a randomized controlled trial. Gastroenterology. 2009 Mar;     [PubMed]
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Kaner EF,Beyer FR,Muirhead C,Campbell F,Pienaar ED,Bertholet N,Daeppen JB,Saunders JB,Burnand B, Effectiveness of brief alcohol interventions in primary care populations. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews. 2018 Feb 24;     [PubMed]
Anderson MA,Akshintala V,Albers KM,Amann ST,Belfer I,Brand R,Chari S,Cote G,Davis BM,Frulloni L,Gelrud A,Guda N,Humar A,Liddle RA,Slivka A,Gupta RS,Szigethy E,Talluri J,Wassef W,Wilcox CM,Windsor J,Yadav D,Whitcomb DC, Mechanism, assessment and management of pain in chronic pancreatitis: Recommendations of a multidisciplinary study group. Pancreatology : official journal of the International Association of Pancreatology (IAP) ... [et al.]. 2016 Jan-Feb;     [PubMed]

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