Binge drinking contributes to increase in pancreas disease in Ireland – TCD study

Posted on: 21 November 2007

Acute pancreatitis, the rapid onset inflammation of the pancreas which can have severe complications and high mortality, has become increasingly common in Western countries in recent years.  Alcohol misuse, particularly binge drinking, is one of the main causes, according to a research paper published in the December issue of the Journal of Public Health.

A research team from Trinity College Dublin, the HSE-North East Department of Public Health, and Tallaght Hospital, published the study on the  increasing numbers of hospital admissions for acute pancreatitis in Ireland.  The paper was co-authored by Anne O’Farrell, Shane Allwright, Des Toomey, Declan Bedford and Kevin Conlon.  The principal investigator was Anne O’Farrell who is a researcher with the HSE-NE and writing her PhD in the Department of Public Health and Primary Care in TCD, under the supervision of Prof Allwright.

The increase in Ireland’s alcohol consumption over the past decade or so has been well documented and during the 8 year study period (1997 – 2004), the Republic of Ireland was second only to Luxembourg on the consumption league tables.  This increase in the nation’s alcohol intake has had well documented detrimental effects on our health and produced pressure on health services. 

Abstracting figures for emergency admissions to acute public hospitals for the years 1997 to 2004 from the Hospital In-Patient Enquiry system (HIPE), the researchers found that although there was an increase in acute pancreatitis generally, by far the greatest increase was for admissions associated with alcohol consumption.

Furthermore,  these patients were being admitted at a younger age,  with a steady increase in admission rates for those aged 30 – 39 years and an almost 3-fold increase in the rate of 20 – 29 year olds admitted, the study found.

The numbers of female admissions were small, but showed the same increasing trends as for males. Of particular concern is that there was a 10-fold increase in admissions of young women in the later years of the study.

These patterns tie in with the fact that self-reported alcohol consumption, and in particular binge drinking, are highest among 18 – 29 year olds in Ireland. The research paper emphasises once again the harm being caused by our alcohol-centred social lives.  

Effective policy measures to reduce consumption generally and to tackle the pattern of binge drinking amongst the younger age groups in particular are required. Policies regulating the availability of alcohol through access restrictions, pricing and promotion, as recommended by the Government’s Strategic Task Force on Alcohol, are urgently required to reduce the incidence of alcohol-related acute pancreatitis and other adverse health effects among the Irish population, the authors concluded.