St. Louis Public Radio News
8:12 pm
Mon June 8, 2009

Researchers find alcohol may not be leading cause of pancreatitis

St. Louis, MO –

Researchers working on a National Institutes of Health study have found that drinking alcohol may not be the leading cause of pancreatitis. Doctors previously thought about 80% of people with pancreatitis, or an inflamed pancreas, got it from consuming five or more drinks a day.

Dr. Frank Burton of St. Louis University's School of Medicine is one of several researchers who studied 1,000 people with the condition. He said researchers found that less than 40% of men and only 11% of women with chronic pancreatitis were actually heavy drinkers.

"Genetic factors or environmental factors that we have not identified to date are responsible for these other individuals having chronic pancreatitis."

Burton said heavy drinking has been traditionally associated with pancreatitis because many times people with liver disease also have the condition.

"And it was mainly from looking at people who already had a history of alcoholism and looking at what diseases they have that the association was originally made."

Researchers also found that smoking more than one pack of cigarettes per day can cause pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis affects between 80,000 and 100,000 Americans each year.