The oral (PABA) pancreatic function test (PFT), the secretin-pancreozymin test and endoscopic retrograde pancreatography (ERCP) have been carried out in 32 patients with suspected chronic alcohol induced pancreatitis (CAIP) in order to evaluate which, if any, test was most likely to confirm the provisional diagnosis. Thirty one patients had changes of minimal (n = 6) moderate (n = 7) or advanced (n = 18) chronic pancreatitis on pancreatography, whilst one patient had a pancreas divisum. Eight hour urinary PABA excretion was significantly reduced in patients with moderate and advanced structural changes (p less than 0.001) and correlated significantly with all parameters of the PFT, although eight patients with an abnormal pancreatogram and pancreatic function test had a normal PABA value. The PFT was abnormal in 23 patients, but normal in five patients with an abnormal pancreatogram and low PABA value. Most patients with minimal change pancreatitis had a normal PABA test and PFT. We conclude that pancreatography appears to be the most sensitive method for detecting chronic pancreatic damage and for confirming a clinical diagnosis of chronic alcohol induced pancreatitis. Both the PFT and PABA test are useful confirmatory tests and whilst the PFT is slightly more sensitive for assessing pancreatic exocrine function, the PABA test is well tolerated and simple to perform. It may therefore be the complementary investigation of choice for this group of patients.
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