Diabetes of the exocrine pancreas

J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2019 Feb;34(2):346-354. doi: 10.1111/jgh.14451. Epub 2018 Sep 25.


Diabetes of the exocrine pancreas (DEP) is a form of diabetes that occurs due to pancreatic disease. It is far more common than has been previously considered, with a recent study showing 1.8% of adults with new-onset diabetes should have been classified as DEP. The majority is misdiagnosed as type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). Patients with DEP exhibit varying degrees of exocrine and endocrine dysfunction. Damage to the islet of Langerhans effects the secretion of hormones from the β, α, and pancreatic polypeptide cells; the combination of low insulin, glucagon, and pancreatic polypeptide contributes to rapid fluctuations in glucose levels. This form of "brittle diabetes" may result in the poorer glycemic control observed in patients with DEP, when compared with those with T2DM. Diabetes of the exocrine pancreas has a different natural history to other forms of diabetes; patients are more likely to require early insulin initiation compared with those with T2DM. Therefore, individuals with DEP should be advised about the symptoms of decompensated hyperglycemia, although they are less likely to develop ketoacidosis. Clinicians should screen for DEP in patients with acute or chronic pancreatitis, following pancreatic resection, or with co-existing cystic fibrosis or hemochromatosis. Incident diabetes may herald the onset of pancreatic ductal carcinoma in a small subset of patients. Once identified, patients with DEP can benefit from specific lifestyle advice, pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy, metformin treatment, appropriate insulin dosing, and monitoring. Further research is needed to establish the ideal treatment regimens to provide optimal clinical outcomes for this unique form of diabetes.

Keywords: adenocarcinoma; cystic fibrosis; diabetes mellitus; hemachromatosis; pancreatitis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Blood Glucose / drug effects
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism*
  • Diabetes Mellitus / blood
  • Diabetes Mellitus / diagnosis
  • Diabetes Mellitus / drug therapy
  • Diabetes Mellitus / epidemiology*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Glucagon / blood
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Insulin / blood*
  • Insulin / therapeutic use
  • Pancreas, Exocrine / drug effects
  • Pancreas, Exocrine / metabolism*
  • Pancreatic Diseases / diagnosis
  • Pancreatic Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Pancreatic Polypeptide / blood
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Risk Factors
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Biomarkers
  • Blood Glucose
  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Insulin
  • Pancreatic Polypeptide
  • Glucagon