Background: Epidemiological data on acute pancreatitis are poorly defined.
Aims: To prospectively evaluate the aetiology of acute pancreatitis and to assess the benefits of intensive investigations.
Methods: In a prospective, 1-year study all cases of acute pancreatitis in the Nice catchment area were enrolled. Subjects underwent routine (serum calcium, phosphate and triglycerides; abdominal ultrasonography and CT scan) and additional, delayed intensive investigations (ERCP with bile sampling and/or endoscopy ultrasonography).
Results: One hundred and twenty-one cases were included. After routine investigations, a biliary, alcoholic, miscellaneous or unknown origin was diagnosed in 43%, 31.4%, 9.9% and 15.7%, respectively. In subjects with biliary pancreatitis, 43% had no previous history of biliary disease. In the alcohol-related subgroup, pancreatitis recurred in 18.5% during 114.5 days mean follow-up. In subjects with a first episode of alcoholic pancreatitis, delayed supplemental investigations revealed underlying chronic pancreatitis in 92.8%. After routine investigations, a diagnosis of pancreatitis of unknown origin was made in 15.7% (n = 19) of subjects. Additional investigations revealed an underlying cause in 57.8% of these patients (n = 11), including malignancy (n = 3) and biliary disease (n = 4), reducing the overall rate of pancreatitis with no apparent cause to 6.6%.
Conclusions: Investigative techniques, particularly ERCP, will reveal the underlying aetiology of pancreatitis in the majority of patients presenting with 'idiopathic' pancreatitis and should be considered when routine tests are negative.