Excessive use of alcohol over a prolonged period is one of the most common contributing factors of chronic pancreatitis.
That does not mean that all patients with chronic pancreatitis misuse alcohol, because there are several other causes. Nor does it mean that everyone who abuses alcohol is at risk. Only a small percentage of heavy drinkers develop pancreatitis, indicating that those who do also have other risk factors that make them susceptible to the disease.
Individuals who are susceptible to alcohol-related injury of the pancreas may develop dilation of the pancreatic duct as well as blockage of the duct due to stones. The resulting inflammation can lead digestive enzymes produced in the pancreas to attack the pancreas itself (pancreatitis).
The pancreatic duct runs through the length of the pancreas, collecting and delivering digestive juices to another duct that will take them to the small intestine. The procedure can be used to reroute the pancreatic duct so it empties straight into the small intestine, heading off possible problems. The Puestow procedure can be used in combination with electrohydraulic lithotripsy (EHL), which can clear the head of the pancreas of obstructing stones. Another variation of the surgery, called the Frey procedure, allows for a damaged section of the pancreatic head to be cored out at the same time the pancreatic duct is linked to the small intestine. Ahe Whipple procedure, which involves removal of the pancreatic head, has become an increasingly popular option for dealing with chronic pancreatitis.
Chronic pancreatitis patients who continue to have problems after trying medical and surgical options may be candidates for removal of the pancreas (pancreatectomy) and the subsequent transfer of islet cells from the patient's pancreas to the patient's liver, where the islet cells can continue to produce hormones that regulate the body's blood sugar (islet autotransplantation). MUSC is one of a few institutions in the world to perform this procedure on a regular basis.
No matter the treatment, anyone with chronic pancreatitis, even in the early stages, should stop drinking alcohol whether or not the problem was originally caused by alcohol abuse.