Objectives: Fecal elastase 1 (E1) is a relatively sensitive and specific indirect test of pancreatic exocrine function. Despite the high functional reserve of the pancreas, it is recognized that a significant proportion of diabetic patients may also have a deficit of the exocrine function. The aim of this study was to screen patients with diabetes mellitus (DM) for pancreatic exocrine insufficiency.
Methods: A total of 80 patients were enrolled in this prospective study, including 42 patients with DM and 38 nondiabetic controls. Exclusion criteria were as follows: age >75 yr; alcohol intake >40 g/day; intake of orlistat or acarbose; and history of diarrhea, pancreatitis, GI surgery, immunodeficiency, or cancer. All patients underwent the same study protocol, which included clinical evaluation, determination of fecal E1, plain x-rays of the abdomen, and abdominal ultrasound. An immunoenzymatic method (ScheBoTech, Wettenburg, Germany) was used for E1 determination. Diagnosis of pancreatic insufficiency was established for a fecal E1 <200 microg/g.
Results: The DM and control groups were comparable regarding age (62 +/- 10 yr vs 56 +/- 10 yr), sex (18 men and 24 women vs 15 men and 23 women), and proportion of patients with excess weight (50% vs 42%). Patients had DM diagnosed for 11.5 +/- 8 yr, with structural changes of the pancreas detected on ultrasound in three cases and calcifications in one case. There was no relationship between E1 determination <200 microg/g and the duration or the type of therapy for DM. Fifteen patients (36%) in the DM group had a fecal E1 <200 microg/g, compared with two patients (5%) in the control group (p < 0.05). In the DM group (n = 42), 11 patients with excess weight presented a fecal E1 <200 microg/g, whereas four patients with a BMI <25 presented this result (p < 0.05).
Conclusions: Pancreatic exocrine insufficiency occurs more frequently in diabetic patients than in controls. Diabetic individuals with excess weight (BMI >25) may be at increased risk for underlying exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.