Alcoholic chronic pancreatitis usually progresses from acute attacks to chronic pancreatitis within one to 19 years. The factors responsible for the appreciable variability in progression are unclear. In this study the relation between progression and the incidence and severity of acute episodes in a large cohort of patients with alcoholic chronic pancreatitis was analysed. All patients with at least one documented episode of acute pancreatitis have been studied prospectively over the past 30 years according to our protocol. Patients were classified according to their long term course into (a) calcific (n = 185), (b) non-calcific (n = 30), and (c) non-progressive (n = 39) chronic pancreatitis groups. The yearly incidence of acute attacks of pancreatitis was significantly higher in groups (a) and (b) than in group (c). Furthermore, the progression rate to advanced chronic pancreatitis (groups (a) and (b)) correlated with the incidence of severe pancreatitis (associated with pseudocysts in more than 55%). Pseudocysts were located primarily in the cephalic pancreas in groups (a) and (b) (58-71%) and in the pancreatic tail in group (c) (61%). In conclusion, these data suggest that the progression of acute to chronic pancreatitis is closely related to the incidence and severity of acute attacks. This finding and the primary location of pseudocysts in the cephalic pancreas (groups (a) plus (b)) are compatible with the 'necrosis-fibrosis' pathogenetic hypothesis.
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