Thirty nine patients undergoing surgery for chronic pancreatitis were investigated for evidence of hepatobiliary disease. In addition to pre-operative assessment by liver function tests, ultrasound, ERCP (in 33) and percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (in five), all had peroperative liver biopsy. Common bile duct stenosis was diagnosed in 16 (62%) of the 26 patients with successful cholangiography. Features of extrahepatic biliary obstruction were found on biopsy in 11 patients, three of whom showed features of secondary sclerosing cholangitis. No patients had secondary biliary cirrhosis. Three had parenchymal liver disease (cirrhosis, resolving hepatitis and alcoholic hepatitis respectively) and two others had features suggestive of previous alcohol-induced injury. Five (83%) of the patients with clinical jaundice had biopsy features of extrahepatic biliary obstruction, as did eight (67%) with alkaline phosphatase above twice normal and seven (44%) with radiological common bile duct stenosis. Neither alkaline phosphatase rise, nor common bile duct stenosis alone or in combination, were a reliable indication of the need for biliary enteric bypass surgery. Pre-operative liver biopsy may be a valuable adjunct in the assessment of such patients.
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