Background & aims: The pain pattern of chronic pancreatitis (CP) and its surgical implications are discussed. The aim of this study was to (1) define typical pain patterns, (2) correlate pain patterns with the presumptive causes of the pain, and (3) compare the natural history of patients treated conservatively or surgically with respect to pain relief, pancreatic dysfunction, and clinical outcome.
Methods: A cohort in this prospective long-term study included 207 patients with alcoholic CP (91 without and 116 with surgery for pain relief). A clinically based staging system was applied to characterize pain in the evolution from onset to end-stage CP.
Results: Average duration of CP was 17 years. In early-stage CP, episodes of recurrent (acute) pancreatitis predominated. Chronic pain was typically associated with local complications (mainly pseudocysts, 84 of 155; 54%), relieved definitely by a single (drainage) procedure in approximately two thirds of patients. Additional surgery was required for late pain recurrence in 39 patients (34%), primarily symptomatic cholestasis (18 of 39; 46%). All patients achieved complete pain relief in advanced CP.
Conclusions: In our experience, relief of chronic pain regularly follows selective surgery tailored to the presumptive pain cause or occurs spontaneously in uncomplicated advanced CP.