PENNSYLVANIA – After drinking a half pint of vodka every day since he was 35, a 50-year-old man in Pennsylvania went to the emergency room vomiting blood.
He complained of abdominal pain and “foul-smelling diarrhea” that had been plaguing him for two months, per a report on his case in the New England Journal of Medicine. He was diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis, which is most often caused by alcoholism and means his pancreas was inflamed. In this case, a CT scan found “extensive calcification of the pancreas,” the doctors who treated him report.
Live Science explains the mechanism by which this happens: Alcohol spurs pancreatic cells to produce enzymes that destroy and inflame tissue there. The calcium found in your body—even if the level is within a normal range—can accumulate in places where tissue damage has occurred.
“Chronic alcohol use leads to a vicious cycle,” the internal medicine resident who treated the man at Mercy Catholic Medical Center in Darby, Pa., tells Live Science. Damage to the pancreas can reduce the production of enzymes that aid digestion, but patients can access replacement pancreatic enzymes over-the-counter.