Transient Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency or Misleading Tests?

A recent retrospective study (J Garah et al. JPGN 2019; 68: 574-77) showed that many cases of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, based on a low fecal elastase (<200), resolved over ~6 months.

Background:

  • 17 of 43 children had adequate data and no other recognized comorbidities which could explain low elastase levels
  • In these 17 children the median age was 3 years
  • Presenting symptoms were failure to thrive, or diarrhea. Children with known etiologies (eg. cystic fibrosis, Shwachman-Diamond, cholestatic liver disease) were excluded.
  • Median elastase at time of diagnosis was 71

Key findings:

  • Median time for normalization of elastase was 6 months. Patients received pancreatic supplements until elastase normalized.
  • 11 of the 17 had values of elastase <100, and an additional two had values of 105.
  • In all 17 children without identifiable underlying diseases, the pancreatic insufficiency was transient.
  • Only two children had fat soluble vitamin deficiency associated with pancreatic insufficiency

The article discusses the use of elastase for diagnosis of pancreatic insufficiency in comparison to more direct/invasive testing which can be difficult to perform.  It is important to recognize that elastase values are often unreliable in the presence of diarrhea or if diluted by urine.  Repeated assays may be needed to have confidence that elastase

My take: This report identifies “transient pancreatic insufficiency” as a frequent explanation for many children and may represent a postinfectious etiology. Thus, if no comorbidity is identified, the prognosis is favorable in most children.

Sculptured Cypress Trees in Retiro Park, Madrid

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