Reduced exocrine pancreatic function has been observed in a high percentage of patients with type 1 diabetes in the past. There are only few data for type 2 diabetes available and they are contradictory. In this study we investigated exocrine pancreatic function in 105 controls and 114 patients with type 1 or type 2 diabetes mellitus by means of an indirect test (faecal elastase-1 concentration). This test has good sensitivity and specificity for moderate and severe pancreatic insufficiency as compared to the gold standard. Reduced faecal elastase-1 concentrations were found in 56.7% of type 1 patients, 35% of type 2 patients and 18.1% of the controls. Elastase-1 concentrations did not correlate with alcohol consumption, diabetes duration or diabetes therapy. The data found for type 1 patients correspond to those reported in earlier studies. The results for type 2 diabetics show that exocrine pancreatic function is also impaired in a high percentage in this group of patients. Pathogenetic concepts to explain these findings as consequences of diabetes complications or insulin deficiency are still under debate. Observations from autopsies and the data of the controls in this study suggest that chronic pancreatitis might be a common problem. In consequence, diabetes secondary to exocrine disease could be much more frequent than believed so far.