A recent UK study found that rates of acute pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) have doubled over the past 30 years, particularly among younger age groups. Increasing alcohol consumption may be partly to blame, say the authors.
Acute pancreatitis is mainly caused by alcohol abuse and gall stones. It produces a sudden attack of severe upper abdominal pain, often accompanied by nausea and vomiting. An attack usually lasts for about 48 hours.
Researchers analysed trends in hospital admissions for pancreatitis from 1963 to 1998 in the Oxford region. Admission rates for acute pancreatitis rose in both men and women from 1963 to 1998, particularly among the younger age groups.
This partly reflects an increase in alcoholic pancreatitis, related to increasing use of alcohol in the community, suggest the authors, although an increase in the occurrence of gall stones may have also contributed to the rise.
Death rates in the first month after admission were 30 times higher than in the general population of the same age.
Overall, pancreatitis remains a disease with a poor prognosis. Death rates have not improved since the 1970s because no major innovations in treatment have been introduced, they conclude.
Source: Goldacre MJ et al. Hospital admission for acute pancreatitis in an English population, 1963-98: database study of incidence and mortality. BMJ 2004;328:1466-9.