Digestive capacity of the gastrointestinal tract, largely but not wholly, depends on exocrine pancreatic function to achieve near complete digestion and absorption of ingested food. Coefficient of fat absorption (CFA), the proportion of ingested fat absorbed (normal >93%), reflects digestive capacity. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) is the state of insufficient digestive capacity (CFA <93%) caused by severe loss of pancreatic exocrine function despite variable compensation by upregulation of extra-pancreatic lipolysis. Fecal elastase 1 (FE1) level is the most widely used, though imperfect, non-invasive test of pancreatic enzyme output. Decline in pancreas enzyme output, or pancreatic exocrine dysfunction (EPD), has a variable correlation with measurable decline in CFA. EPI results in steatorrhea, weight loss and nutrient deficiency, which are mitigated by pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT). We propose a staging system for EPD, based on measurement of fecal elastase (FE1) and, if necessary, CFA and serum fat-soluble vitamin levels. In Stage I (Mild) EPD, FE1 is 100–200 mcg/gm; if steatorrhea is present, non-pancreatic causes are likely. In Stage II (Moderate) EPD), FE1 is < 100 mcg/gm without clinical and/or laboratory evidence of steatorrhea. In Stage III, there are marked reductions in FE1 and CFA, but vitamin levels remain normal (Severe EPD or EPI without nutritional deficiency). In Stage IV all parameters are abnormal (Severe EPD or EPI with nutritional deficiency). EPD stages I and II are pancreas sufficient and PERT may not be the best or first approach in management of early-stage disease; it needs further study to determine clinical utility. The term EPI refers strictly to EPD Stages III and IV which should be treated with PERT, with Stage IV requiring micronutrient supplementation as well.
- Exocrine pancreatic dysfunction
- Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism