May 2014

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

The pancreas is one of those body parts you never think about, until something goes wrong with it!  The pancreas is a long, flat gland tucked behind the stomach that does many jobs.  One of those jobs is to make substances called enzymes.  Enzymes allow you to digest the food you eat so that it can be used to nourish your body.  Your pancreas makes enzymes called lipase, protease and amylase.  Lipase helps to break down fats. Protease breaks down proteins, and amylase breaks down carbohydrates. The enzymes from the pancreas are released after food leaves the stomach.  By helping to break down food, your body is able to absorb the nutrients in the food and use them for energy and to help keep you healthy. 

If the pancreas is diseased or damaged, it may not make enough of these important enzymes.  This condition is called Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency or EPI for short.  People with EPI cannot digest their food properly.  This can lead to diarrhea, abdominal cramps, weight loss and other problems and can be very similar to other digestive problems.  

Diagnosis of EPI begins with a visit to a Gastroenterologist, who will complete a thorough review of your medical history to pinpoint the root cause of your symptoms.  You will need to share important information such as the medications or supplements you are taking; your eating habits; recent unexplained weight loss; the severity of the symptoms you are experiencing; change in stool/bowel habits; etc. help your gastroenterology identify and diagnose the source of your problem. Your physician may ask for stool samples to check for high levels of fat or a substance called elastase.  He may suggest other studies may include imaging studies (ultrasound or x-ray) to show pictures of your pancreas to identify any abnormalities.

Your Gastroenterologist has at his/her disposal many tools to help in the diagnosis and management of EPI or any other diseases of the pancreas. . 

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