Update on the diagnosis and management of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency

F1000Res. 2019 Nov 26:8:F1000 Faculty Rev-1991. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.20779.1. eCollection 2019.


Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) is characterized by inadequate pancreatic enzyme delivery to the small intestine Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) is characterized by inadequate pancreatic enzyme delivery to the small intestine, resulting in malabsorption. Clinical manifestations of EPI are often nonspecific and can lead to lack of timely recognition and diagnosis. Central to this clinical dilemma is the lack of highly accurate or specific testing which leads to misdiagnosis and suboptimal treatment. Identification of high-risk patients is key in the diagnosis of EPI and this includes patients with pancreatic parenchyma disorders such as chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic malignancy, cystic fibrosis, and those undergoing pancreatic resection for benign and malignant disease. Less recognized are the number of additional conditions which may also have EPI as a consequence. Owing to an increase in morbidity and impaired quality of life associated with this condition, goals of treatment have been aimed at repleting exocrine enzyme deficiency by oral pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT). The basis of PERT is to provide activated digestive enzymes to the small bowel during the prandial period, mainly, leading to sufficient absorption of fat and fat-soluble vitamins. The benefits of PERT have been shown to go beyond the improvement in signs and symptoms associated with EPI and include decreasing prevalence of osteopathy and improving survival outcomes in subsets of patients with this condition. However, despite the overall benefits in treatment, the diagnosis and management of EPI are suboptimal. Current literature suggests patients at high risk of developing EPI are not tested and those who are diagnosed are not treated with adequate dosages. In this review, we highlight patients who are at high risk for the development of EPI, analyze consequences and treatment of this disorder, review rationale for enzyme replacement therapy, and examine current evidence for treatment optimization.

Keywords: Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency; chronic pancreatitis; pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Enzyme Replacement Therapy
  • Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency*
  • Humans
  • Pancreas
  • Pancreatitis, Chronic*
  • Quality of Life