Although the three leading symptoms of chronic pancreatitis, pain, exocrine and endocrine pancreatic insufficiency, are well known, only a few long-term studies have correlated these symptoms with the natural course of the disease. Besides these symptoms, numerous pancreatic complications and/or pancreatitis-associated diseases may affect the course and determine the prognosis of chronic pancreatitis. Their influence, however, has not been studied in detail. This review has two major aims: The first one is to give an up-to-date survey of present knowledge on the natural course of the disease with a view to the leading symptoms under special consideration of how the duration of the disease, continual alcohol abuse as well as endoscopic procedures and surgical treatment affect pain. Included is also what is known about chronic pancreatitis as a precondition of pancreatic and extrapancreatic carcinoma. The effect of chronic pancreatitis on the socio-economic status of patients is discussed and the mortality rate of the disease. The second aim of this review is to stimulate pancreatologists from different centers to consolidate resources in order to perform larger controlled studies than any one single center can undertake and work out common criteria for the diagnosis of chronic pancreatitis and follow-up of its course.
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