The pancreas is a large, long gland that's tucked away behind your stomach and close to the upper part of your small intestine. It's an organ you rarely think about, and one that's tough even for skilled surgeons to get to. But when your pancreas is infected, you'll know it. The pain can be unbearable. In many cases, we can control our own destiny and prevent such pain just by not drinking excessively.
Your pancreas does two important things: It makes enzymes that help you digest your food, and it releases hormones that control how your body uses sugar, according to the Mayo Clinic. When there is damage to your pancreas, the enzymes that were once good can actually turn on you and begin to attack the pancreas, according to information from the Cleveland Clinic. Ultimately, your pancreas can suffer from severe bleeding, tissue damage and even harm surrounding organs such as the heart and lungs.
An infection of the pancreas is best summed up with "pancreatitis." This condition causes the pancreas to become inflamed. There are two forms, acute and chronic. The acute form comes on suddenly and severely. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized with acute pancreatitis each year in the U.S., according to the National Institutes of Health. If you have the chronic form of the illness, you've experienced the acute form before and have been suffering multiple episodes of pancreatitis over the course of many years.
Drinking is one of the most common causes of this inflammation. If you get acute pancreatitis, it can follow an hour to a few days after drinking heavily, according to NIH. Chronic pancreatitis is a sign of heavy drinking over the course of many years, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Gallstones are another cause, according to the Mayo Clinic. These "stones" resembles pebbles, but are actually deposits of hardened bile that form inside of the bladder.
Though rare, in some cases you can get chronic pancreatitis from your parents. This type of inflammation is known as hereditary pancreatitis. According to the NIH, the condition isn't considered to be familial unless at least two other family members have suffered from it.
High levels of calcium and fats in the blood, as well as certain types of medications can also be to blame, according to the Mayo Clinic. The chronic lung disease cystic fibrosis has also been linked to pancreatic infections and damage.