The epidemiology of chronic pancreatitis (CP) is incompletely understood. A number of difficulties exist in estimating the prevalence and incidence of CP. Long-term follow-up is often problematic, especially in chronic alcoholics, and obtaining a formal and standardised diagnosis can take years. The available studies are reasonably consistent in their estimation of the incidence of CP but few studies have attempted to estimate prevalence. Although life expectancy in CP is diminished compared with control populations, median survival lies in the range of 15-20 years. Such a survival would suggest a prevalence of CP rather higher than that determined from the survey studies. A recent epidemiological study in France found an annual incidence of 7.8 per 100,000. Assuming a survival of 15-20 years, the annual prevalence should be between 120 to 143 per 100,000. Overall, our understanding of the epidemiology of CP is poor compared with other illnesses. We consider that both prevalence and the rate of pancreatic insufficiency and of CP are currently underestimated. There is a distinct need for more studies to remedy this lack of knowledge.
Keywords: Chronic pancreatitis; epidemiology; pancreatic exocrine insufficiency.