Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, also referred to as EPI, is a condition characterized by enzyme deficiency in the pancreas. This results in an inability to properly digest food, and can lead to numerous health problems. Below we take a closer look at what causes it and how EPI is treated.
The Causes and Symptoms Of Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency
EPI is oftentimes a side effect of a larger health condition. The two most common health conditions associated with the onset of EPI are cystic fibrosis and chronic pancreatitis. If you’ve been diagnosed with either of these conditions, you want to pay extra attention to the symptoms of EPI.
Of the two above conditions, chronic pancreatitis is the most common cause of EPI. Over time, inflammation associated with chronic pancreatitis leads to irreversible damage to the organ and to the cells that secrete pancreatic digestive enzymes and the cells that produce insulin. In patients with cystic fibrosis, the thick mucus that is produced as part of the condition inhibits the healthy function of the pancreas, leading to EPI.
Symptoms of EPI include:
- Stomach pain
- Weight Loss
Diagnosing and Treating Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency
Diagnosing EPI begins with a conversation with your endocrine specialist. They will listen to your symptoms and ask about other digestive processes to see if what you’re dealing with sounds like EPI. Your doctor can then conduct a couple different tests to diagnose the condition. Common methods include testing stool samples for certain markers or by inserting a small tube into the intestine to collect pancreas secretions, which are then tested.
If you are eventually diagnosed with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, your doctor will talk to your about your treatment options. The conversation will center around improving your diet to ensure you’re getting nutrient rich foods, as EPI interferes with your body’s ability to absorb nutrients. They’ll also stress the importance of limiting fats, which are difficult for your pancreas to digest.
However, changing your diet isn’t the only way you’ll need to treat EPI. Most doctors will recommend that you begin what’s known as Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy, or PERT. PERT helps to break down the nutrients in food so they can better be absorbed by your digestive system. They are often prescribed in combination with vitamin and mineral supplements to ensure that you are getting the proper levels of fat-soluble vitamins.
For more information about the condition, or if this sounds like something you or someone you know might be dealing with, reach out to Dr. Koeplin to get a better understanding of what’s going on inside your body.