April 16 (UPI) -- Pancreatitis has been linked to severe levels of triglycerides as well as alcohol abuse and gallstones, according to a study focused on minorities.
Dr. Ayokunle Abegunde, a gastroenterologist at Loyola Medicine in Chicago, conducted the first study that examined pancreatitis mainly in a U.S. multiethnic minority population, a demographic that has a higher level of pancreatitis. He published the findings online Monday in the journal Endocrine Practice.
Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas -- the large gland behind the stomach responsible for enzymes that aid digestion and hormones with a role in maintaining blood sugar balance -- becomes inflamed. The condition has several causes, with alcohol and gallstones among them.
Symptoms of pancreatitis include pain in the upper abdomen that may extend to the back, nausea and vomiting, fever, rapid pulse and weight loss.
Every year, there are 275,000 hospitalizations for acute pancreatitis in the United States, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The risk of pancreatitis is between two- and three-fold higher among blacks than whites, who have a considerably higher risk factor than any other racial group.
The mortality rate is also high, with the five-year survival rate approximately 6 percent, according to NIDDK.
In previous studies, severe levels of triglycerides have been associated with pancreatitis, but the cutoff level hadn't been confirmed and research was limited on minority populations, researchers said.
Generally, normal levels are below 150 milligrams per deciliter. Those above than 500 mg/dL are considered very high, between 1,000 and 1,999 mg/dL is considered severe and above 2,000 mg/dL is considered very severe.
The researchers analyzed medical data for 1,157 adult patients of the Cook County Health & Hospitals System whose triglyceride levels were higher than 1,000 mg/dL. The patient group they studied broke down to 38.4 percent Hispanic, 31.6 percent African-American, 22.7 percent white, 5.7 percent Asian and 1.6 percent of Pacific Islander descent. The average age of study subjects was 49 years old, and nearly 76 percent were women.
About 9 percent of patients studied had pancreatitis. But there was a 4.3-fold increase in pancreatitis among patients with triglyceride levels higher than 2,000 mg/dL, compared to those with between 1,000 and 1,999 mg/dL.
For those 2,000 mg/dL, 2 percent had pancreatitis, compared with 33.6 percent of patients who had triglyceride levels higher than 2,000 mg/dL and one other risk factor.
The researchers also found that younger adults were more likely to develop pancreatitis, adding that gallstone disease is an additional risk factor and can be a significantly higher one for women.
"It is not clear why older patients with similar risk factors were less susceptible to developing acute pancreatitis," researchers wrote, adding that early detection and counseling on behavioral risk factors could help reduce the risk of pancreatitis.