Introduction and practical approach to exocrine pancreatic insufficiency for the practicing clinician

Int J Clin Pract. 2018 Feb;72(2):e13066. doi: 10.1111/ijcp.13066. Epub 2018 Feb 5.


Aims: In exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), the quantity and/or activity of pancreatic digestive enzymes are below the levels required for normal digestion, leading to maldigestion and malabsorption. Diagnosis of EPI is often challenging because the characteristic signs and symptoms overlap with those of other gastrointestinal conditions. Additionally, there is no single convenient, or specific diagnostic test for EPI. The aim of this review is to provide a framework for differential diagnosis of EPI vs other malabsorptive conditions.

Methods: This is a non-systematic narrative review summarising information pertaining to the aetiology, diagnosis and management of EPI.

Results: Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency may be caused by pancreatic disorders, including chronic pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, pancreatic resection and pancreatic cancer. EPI may also result from extra-pancreatic conditions, including coeliac disease, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome and gastric surgery. Timely and accurate diagnosis of EPI is important, as delays in treatment prolong maldigestion and malabsorption, with potentially serious consequences for malnutrition, overall health and quality of life. Symptoms of EPI are non-specific; therefore, a high index of clinical suspicion is required to make a correct diagnosis.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency / diagnosis*
  • Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency / etiology
  • Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency / therapy
  • Humans
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / diagnosis*
  • Quality of Life