Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency results from the inability of the pancreas to produce adequate amounts of important digestive enzymes. The enzyme insufficiency is often caused by some underlying condition, such as cystic fibrosis, pancreatic cancer or chronic inflammation of the pancreas, also called pancreatitis. Several symptoms result from exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, including abdominal pain; weight loss; indigestion; and steatorrhea, a condition that causes foul-smelling, oily, loose stools. Limited options are available for the treatment of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.
Treatment of Underlying Condition
The most effective treatment for exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is to successfully treat the underlying condition causing the enzyme insufficiency, reports Lab Tests Online. If the underlying condition is treated, the symptoms of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency often subside. At the very least, treating the underlying condition will prevent the pancreas from sustaining additional damage and increasing the symptoms of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. However, treatments of pancreatic cancer involving removal of large portions of the pancreas can increase exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, often permanently, explains the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy
Pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy can relieve some of the symptoms of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. This type of therapy involves administering oral pancreatic enzymes in an attempt to supply the digestive system with the missing enzymes, explains the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Drugs are available that contain most of the pancreatic enzymes needed, including proteases, which break down proteins; lipase, which break down fats; and amylase, which breaks down carbohydrates. One common medication is pancrelipase, which is sold under several brand names, such as Creon. Exactly how pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy is administered depends on the specific condition of each patient and should be determined by a doctor, reports PubMed Health.
Vitamin Supplements and Diet
People with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency often develop symptoms of malnutrition because their digestive system cannot properly break down food and extract nutrients. In particular, the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K are often difficult to absorb for patients with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, because their bodies cannot break down and absorb the fats that carry these vitamins. Vitamin supplements can help people with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency maintain proper nutrition. Similarly, doctors may recommend a diet that is low in fat but higher in protein and calories, to help a person with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency absorb enough calories to maintain a healthy weight, explains Lab Tests Online.