Background: Patients with coeliac disease may have diarrhoea despite being on a gluten-free diet.
Aim: To assess whether exocrine pancreatic insufficiency causes persisting symptoms compared with controls, we determined whether pancreatic enzyme supplementation provided symptomatic benefit in coeliac patients with chronic diarrhoea.
Methods: Patients (n = 259) were subdivided into four groups: (a) new coeliac disease (n = 57), (b) coeliac disease patients on a gluten-free diet without gastrointestinal symptoms (n = 86), (c) coeliac disease patients on a gluten-free diet with chronic diarrhoea (n = 66) and (d) patients with chronic diarrhoea without coeliac disease (n = 50). Stool frequency and weight, before and after treatment with pancreatic enzyme supplementation were recorded.
Results: The prevalence of a low faecal elastase-1 within the groups was: group (A) six of 57 (11%), group (B) five of 86 (6%), group (C) 20 of 66 (30%) and group (D) two of 50 (4%). Low faecal elastase-1 was more frequent in coeliac disease patients with chronic diarrhoea vs. other subgroups of coeliac disease (P < or = 0.0001) and controls (P < or = 0.0003). In 18 of 20 stool frequency reduced following pancreatic enzyme supplementation from four per day to one (P < or = 0.001). No weight increase (P = 0.3) was observed.
Conclusions: Low faecal elastase is common in patients with coeliac disease and chronic diarrhoea, suggesting exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. In this group of patients, pancreatic enzyme supplementation may provide symptomatic benefit.