Pancreatic Insufficiency

What is exocrine pancreatic insufficiency?

The pancreas is an organ that is responsible for making digestive enzymes to help the body break down fats, proteins, and sugars from food. In patients with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (sometimes just called pancreatic insufficiency), the pancreas does not produce enough of some or all of these enzymes.

Symptoms of pancreatic insufficiency

Patients with pancreatic insufficiency have symptoms related to undigested food in the GI tract that may include the following:

  • Crampy abdominal pain
  • Gas and bloating
  • Foul-smelling, greasy diarrhea
  • Poor weight gain
  • Weight loss

In severe cases, patients with pancreatic insufficiency may have specific vitamin deficiencies leading to skin rashes, muscle weakness, poor vision, easy bruising, or fatigue.

Diagnosis for pancreatic insufficiency

A stool test is usually all that is needed to diagnose pancreatic insufficiency. Sometimes, more specific tests like a specialized MRI or upper endoscopy are needed, but this is rare. Researchers at CHOP are actively investigating better ways to diagnose pancreatic insufficiency.

Treatment for pancreatic insufficiency

Pancreatic insufficiency is treated with medications that contain the missing digestive enzymes, available by prescription from a healthcare provider. We only recommend FDA-approved pancreatic enzyme medications - over-the-counter enzymes are not FDA-approved and may be harmful.

At Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, children with pancreatic insufficiency are evaluated and treated by doctors in the Pancreatic Disorders Program in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition.

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