Smoking Hurts The Pancreas Too

Smoking can lead to potentially life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Dominique Brooks, M.D

(RxWiki News) Everyone knows that smoking can cause lung cancer. But there are many other less known ill effects being investigated, adding to the list of reasons to ditch the habit.

A recent study has found that smoking is associated with the risk of developing acute pancreatitis, a serious condition that can cause permanent damage to the pancreas. 

The study results showed that acute pancreatitis was more common among smokers. The risk was higher in smokers who also drank alcohol.

"Quit smoking for your health!"

The study was conducted by Jeffrey Scherrer, PhD, MA, and Satish Munigala MD, MPH, from the department of internal medicine at St. Louis University along with other collaborators.

The objective of the study was to examine the effect of cigarette smoking on the risk of developing acute pancreatitis.

Acute pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, a vital organ that produces digestive juices and hormones necessary for normal digestive function and metabolism.

Previous studies have linked smoking with recurrent episodes of acute pancreatitis, but according to the researchers, the association of smoking with single episodes of acute pancreatitis has not been studied extensively.

The researchers looked at Veterans’ Administration database data from the years 1999 to 2007. The participants were divided into four main groups.

They included more than 276,000 patients who did not smoke or drink alcohol (group A), around 86,000 patients who smoked but did not drink alcohol (group B), around 42,000 patients who drank alcohol but did not smoke (group C) and around 78,000 patients who both smoked as well as drank alcohol (group D).

All the patients in the study were 15 years or older at the time they were added to the database and none of them had a history of gallstones or chronic pancreatitis.

On analysis, the researchers found that between 2001 and 2007, more than 6,700 patients had acute pancreatitis (1.4 percent of the study population). There were 1566 patients from group A, 916 from group B, 1098 from group C and 3219 patients from group D.

The mean age at which patients developed pancreatitis was 62 years in group A, 56 years in group B, 54 years in group C and 52 years in group D, thus showing that patients who were non-drinkers and non-smokers developed pancreatitis relatively later in life.

Both alcohol and smoking were considered separately and found to be significantly associated with risk of acute pancreatitis. The patients who drank alcohol were 3.65 times more likely to develop acute pancreatitis than the non-drinkers. The patients who smoked were 1.58 times more likely to develop acute pancreatitis than the non-smokers.

Recurrent pancreatitis was defined as more than two episodes of acute pancreatitis. The risk of recurrent pancreatitis was highest in group D (smoker, drinker) and lowest in group A (non-smoker, non-drinker).

Thus, according to the study, smoking and drinking alcohol are both independently associated with higher risk of acute pancreatitis.

The results of the study were presented at Digestive Disease Week 2013 and published as a supplement in May 2013 in Gastroenterology, the official journal of the American Gastroenterological Association.

The study was not funded by any organization.

One of the study researchers, Darwin Conwell, MD, has served on advisory committees/review panels with Abbott. Another researcher, Andres Gelrud, MD, MMSc, reported consulting relationships with Abbott, Boston Scientific and US Endoscopy. No potential conflicts of interest or direct financial relationships were reported by the other study authors.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 4, 2013
Last Updated:
December 30, 2013