Synopsis of recent guidelines on pancreatic exocrine insufficiency

J-Matthias Löhr, Mark R Oliver, Luca Frulloni
United European Gastroenterology Journal 2013, 1 (2): 79-83

BACKGROUND: In recent years, three national gastroenterology societies established guidelines for the diagnosis and therapy of pancreatic exocrine insufficiency (PEI). In addition, the Cochrane Collaboration issued a review.

OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this paper is to present an overview of the recommendations and concordance between the four recent published guidelines and stimulate further discussion.

METHODS: A review of the Australian, German and Italian guidelines and the Cochrane review was conducted, and a synthesis was made of common statements.

RESULTS: There is a high degree of agreement on almost all items within these guidelines, both in the diagnosis of PEI and in terms of therapy and approach to management of PEI. In addition, novel emerging developments are highlighted, such as the fecal elastase-1 test, which is widely used but is not suitable for measuring mild-to-moderate PEI despite its ability to positively establish the diagnosis of severe PEI. One of the few novel tests proving to be useful is the (13)C mixed-chain triglycerides (MCT) breath test. This test, albeit an excellent quantitative test, is not widely used and is rarely available. The use of this test is making it apparent that there is a difference between treating the symptoms of PEI and treating malnutrition, the broader underlying defect. This may have direct consequences for the dosing of pancreatic enzymes (pancreatin), in that the consensus starting dose of all guidelines may be too low for some patients. Although chronic pancreatitis in adults and cystic fibrosis in children account for the main evidence base used for PEI, other indications are also discussed.

CONCLUSIONS: There is good concordance between recommendations provided by international groups. More prospective studies are required in many areas, including the use of pancreatic enzymes in other gastrointestinal disorders, such as celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). We also need to assess the feasibility of the (13)C MCT breath test. At the same time, it needs to be confirmed that higher doses of pancreatic enzymes are really necessary to not only relieve the symptoms of PEI but also treat malnutrition appropriately.

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