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The pancreas

Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can lead to:

  • pancreatitis
  • inflammation of the pancreas
  • swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas

Pancreatitis can be very painful.

There are 2 types of pancreatitis:

  • acute pancreatitis
  • chronic pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis comes on suddenly. It can cause severe pain and can be life-threatening.

Acute pancreatitis can cause pain in the stomach area (abdomen), behind the ribs. It can spread through the back and cause nausea, vomiting and fever.

Chronic pancreatitis

Chronic (long-lasting) pancreatitis is when the pancreas becomes inflamed and stays that way. This causes it to stop working properly.

Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include:

  • recurring, severe pain behind the ribs and through the back
  • weight loss
  • greasy, foul-smelling poo and loose bowel movements

It may cause complications that can be life-threatening, such as pancreatic cancer.

Treatment for chronic pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis is hard to treat. The main advice is to not drink alcohol. 

The pancreas produces enzymes that digest your food. When the pancreas does not function, these enzymes come in tablet form.

A third of people with pancreatitis develop type 2 diabetes.

Related topic

Alcohol and diabetes

Reducing the risk

Reduce your risk of damaging your pancreas by cutting down or giving up alcohol.

Stay below the weekly low-risk alcohol guidelines to avoid damaging your pancreas.

If you have pancreatitis, giving up alcohol can slow its development. It will also reduce painful symptoms. But scarring in the pancreas can be irreversible.

Related topics

Weekly low-risk alcohol guidelines

page last reviewed: 08/11/2019
next review due: 08/11/2022