JOURNAL ARTICLE

Faecal elastase 1: not helpful in diagnosing chronic pancreatitis associated with mild to moderate exocrine pancreatic insufficiency

P G Lankisch, I Schmidt, H König, D Lehnick, R Knollmann, M Löhr, S Liebe
Gut 1998, 42 (4): 551-4
9616319

BACKGROUND/AIM: The suggestion that estimation of faecal elastase 1 is a valuable new tubeless pancreatic function test was evaluated by comparing it with faecal chymotrypsin estimation in patients categorised according to grades of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) based on the gold standard tests, the secretin-pancreozymin test (SPT) and faecal fat analysis.

METHODS: In 64 patients in whom EPI was suspected, the following tests were performed: SPT, faecal fat analysis, faecal chymotrypsin estimation, faecal elastase 1 estimation. EPI was graded according to the results of the SPT and faecal fat analysis as absent, mild, moderate, or severe. The upper limit of normal for faecal elastase 1 was taken as 200 micrograms/g, and for faecal chymotrypsin 3 U/g stool. Levels between 3 and 6 U/g stool for faecal chymotrypsin are usually considered to be suspicious for EPI. In this study, both 3 and 6 U/g stool were evaluated as the upper limit of normal.

RESULTS: Exocrine pancreatic function was normal in 34 patients, of whom 94, 91, and 79% had normal faecal elastase 1 and faecal chymotrypsin levels (< 3 U/g and < 6 U/g) respectively. Thirty patients had EPI, of whom 53, 37, and 57% had abnormal faecal enzyme levels (differences not significant). When EPI was graded as mild, moderate, or severe, 63% of patients had mild to moderate EPI, and 37% had severe EPI. In the latter group, between 73 and 91% of patients had abnormal faecal enzymes. In the group with mild to moderate EPI, abnormal test results were obtained for both faecal enzymes in less than 50% of the patients (differences not significant). Some 40% of the patients had pancreatic calcifications. There were no significant differences for either faecal enzyme between the two groups with and without pancreatic calcifications. In 62% of the patients who underwent an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), abnormal duct changes were found. Again, there were no significant differences for either faecal enzyme between the two groups with abnormal and normal ERCP.

CONCLUSION: Estimation of faecal elastase 1 is not distinctly superior to the traditional faecal chymotrypsin estimation. The former is particularly helpful only in detecting severe EPI, but not the mild to moderate form, which poses the more frequent and difficult clinical problem and does not correlate significantly with the severe morphological changes seen in chronic pancreatitis.

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