Diagnosis and management of pancreatic exocrine insufficiency

Med J Aust. 2017 Aug 21;207(4):161-165. doi: 10.5694/mja16.00851.


In 2015, the Australasian Pancreatic Club (APC) published the Australasian guidelines for the management of pancreatic exocrine insufficiency (http://pancreas.org.au/2016/01/pancreatic-exocrine-insufficiency-guidelines). Pancreatic exocrine insufficiency (PEI) occurs when normal digestion cannot be sustained due to insufficient pancreatic digestive enzyme activity. This may be related to a breakdown, at any point, in the pancreatic digestive chain: pancreatic stimulation; synthesis, release or transportation of pancreatic enzymes; or synchronisation of secretions to mix with ingested food. Main recommendations: The guidelines provide advice on diagnosis and management of PEI, noting the following: A high prevalence of PEI is seen in certain diseases and conditions, such as cystic fibrosis, acute and chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer and pancreatic surgery. The main symptoms of PEI are steatorrhoea or diarrhoea, abdominal pain, bloating and weight loss. These symptoms are non-specific and often go undetected and untreated. PEI diagnosis is predominantly based on clinical findings and the presence of underlying disease. The likelihood of PEI in suspected patients has been categorised into three groups: definite, possible and unlikely. If left untreated, PEI may lead to complications related to fat malabsorption and malnutrition, and have an impact on quality of life. Pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT) remains the mainstay of PEI treatment with the recommended adult initial enzyme dose being 25 000-40 000 units of lipase per meal, titrating up to a maximum of 75 000-80 000 units of lipase per meal. Adjunct acid-suppressing therapy may be useful when patients still experience symptoms of PEI on high dose PERT. Nutritional management by an experienced dietitian is essential. Changes in management as a result of these guidelines: These are the first guidelines to classify PEI as being definite, possible or unlikely, and provide a diagnostic algorithm to facilitate the early diagnosis of PEI and appropriate use of PERT.

Keywords: Biochemistry; Malabsorption syndromes; Pancreatic diseases.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Disease Management*
  • Enzyme Replacement Therapy*
  • Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency / diagnosis*
  • Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Nutritional Support
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Quality of Life
  • Societies, Medical