Pancreatitis among patients with cystic fibrosis: correlation with pancreatic status and genotype

Pediatrics. 2005 Apr;115(4):e463-9. doi: 10.1542/peds.2004-1764. Epub 2005 Mar 16.


Objective: Pancreatitis is an infrequent complication among patients with cystic fibrosis (CF). It has mainly been reported for patients with pancreatic sufficiency (PS). Previous studies involved only a small number of patients because they contained data from single centers. The aim of this study was to evaluate the incidence of pancreatitis in a large heterogeneous CF population, to determine the relationship with pancreatic function, and to assess whether pancreatitis is associated with specific CFTR mutations.

Methods: Physicians caring for patients with CF were approached through the CF Thematic Network or through the European Cystic Fibrosis Foundation newsletter. They were asked to provide data on their current patient cohort through a standardized questionnaire and to report how many patients they had ever diagnosed as having pancreatitis. A detailed questionnaire was then sent, to be filled out for all of their patients for whom pancreatitis had ever occurred. We defined pancreatitis as an episode of acute abdominal pain associated with serum amylase levels elevated above the ranges established by each participating center's laboratory. General clinical data included age, genotype, age at diagnosis of CF, sweat chloride concentrations, pancreatic status, biometric findings, and respiratory status. CFTR mutations were also reported according to the functional classification of classes I to V. Patients were categorized as having PS, pancreatic insufficiency (PI), or PI after an initial period of PS. PI was defined as a 72-hour stool fat loss of >7 g/day, fat absorption of <93%, or fecal elastase levels of <200 microg/g feces. Clinical data on pancreatitis included age at the first episode, amylase and lipase levels, possible triggers, and occurrence of relapses or complications.

Results: A total of 10071 patients with CF, from 29 different countries, who were undergoing follow-up monitoring in 2002 were surveyed. Among this group, pancreatitis had ever been diagnosed for 125 patients (1.24%; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.02-1.46%). There was variability in the reported rates of pancreatitis for different countries. Twenty-six centers in 15 different countries sent detailed clinical data on their patients with pancreatitis and on their whole CF clinic. This involved 3306 patients with CF and 61 cases of pancreatitis, leading to a prevalence of 1.84% (95% CI: 1.39-2.30%). The mean age of the patients with pancreatitis ever was 24.4 years (SD: 10.8 years). The first episode of pancreatitis occurred at a mean age of 19.9 years (SD: 9.6 years). The median serum amylase level at the time of pancreatitis was 746 IU/L (interquartile range: 319-1630 IU/L), and the median lipase level was 577 IU/L (interquartile range: 229-1650 IU/L). The majority of patients had PS (34 of 61 patients, 56%; 95% CI: 43-68%). Pancreatitis occurred for 15 patients with PI (25%; 95% CI: 14-35%). Eight patients developed PI after initial PS. The occurrence of pancreatitis among patients with PS was 34 cases per 331 patients, ie, 10.27% (95% CI: 7.00-13.55%); the occurrence of pancreatitis among patients with PI was 15 cases per 2971 patients, ie, 0.5% (95% CI: 0.25-0.76%). The mean age (in 2002) of the CF cohort with pancreatitis did not differ between the PS and PI subgroups. The forced expiratory volume in 1 second was significantly lower among the patients with PI than among the patients with PS, ie, 65% (SEM: 7%) vs 79% (SEM: 4%). The mean age at the occurrence of pancreatitis and the amylase and lipase levels during pancreatitis were not different for patients with pancreatitis and PI versus PS. In the group with PS, 31 of 34 patients carried at least 1 class IV or V CFTR mutation. In the groups with PI and PI after PS, 5 of 15 patients and 3 of 8 patients, respectively, carried 2 class I, II, or III CFTR mutations. Relapses and/or evolution to chronic pancreatitis occurred for 42 patients. Pancreatitis preceded the diagnosis of CF in 18 of 61 cases. These patients were significantly older than the rest of the cohort, ie, age of 28.4 years (SEM: 3.4 years) vs 22.7 years (SEM: 1.3 years). Their median age at the diagnosis of CF was also significantly greater, ie, 21.5 years (interquartile range: 11.9-31 years) vs 7.6 years (interquartile range: 0.4-17.0 years). However, the ages at the occurrence of pancreatitis were similar, ie, 21.0 years (SEM: 3.0 years) vs 19.5 years (SEM: 1.2 years).

Conclusions: This study of 10071 patients with CF from 29 different countries revealed an estimated overall occurrence of pancreatitis among patients with CF of 1.24% (95% CI: 1.02-1.46%). The incidence of pancreatitis was much higher among patients with PS. However, pancreatitis was also reported for 15 patients with PI from 11 centers in 9 different countries. A correct diagnosis of pancreatitis for the reported patients with PI was supported by amylase and lipase levels increased above 500 IU/L, similar to those for patients with PS and pancreatitis. A correct diagnosis of PI for these patients with pancreatitis was supported by the adequacy of the methods used. We chose the cutoff values used to distinguish between patients with PI and control subjects without gastrointestinal disease. For one half of the patients, the diagnosis of PI was established on the basis of low levels of stool elastase (mean: 97 mug/g stool). With a cutoff value of 200 microg/g stool, this noninvasive test has high sensitivity (>95%) and high specificity (>90%) to differentiate patients with PI from control subjects with normal pancreatic function. For the other one half of the patients with PI in the cohort, the pancreatic status was determined on the basis of the 3-day fecal fat balance, with the widely used cutoff value of >7 g of fat loss per day. The most likely reason for pancreatitis occurring among patients with PI is that some residual pancreatic tissue is present among these patients. Pancreatitis is a rare complication among patients with CF. It occurred for 1.24% (95% CI: 1.02-1.46%) of a large CF cohort. Pancreatitis occurs mainly during adolescence and young adulthood. It is much more common among patients with CF and PS (10.3%), but it can occur among patients with PI (0.5%). Pancreatitis can be the first manifestation of CF. Pancreatitis was reported for patients carrying a wide range of mutations.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amylases / blood
  • Cystic Fibrosis / complications*
  • Cystic Fibrosis / enzymology
  • Cystic Fibrosis / genetics
  • Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator / genetics*
  • Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency / complications*
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Lipase / blood
  • Male
  • Mutation
  • Pancreatitis / epidemiology
  • Pancreatitis / etiology*
  • Prevalence


  • CFTR protein, human
  • Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator
  • Lipase
  • Amylases