Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency, often called pancreatic insufficiency, is the inability of your digestive system to break down and properly digest the foods you eat.
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency or EPI is characterized by the pancreas NOT producing enough pancreatic enzymes (protease, amylase, lipase) to promote normal digestion and the need for pancreatic enzyme supplementation.
This condition can be mild or severe.
What Causes Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency?
There are more causes for pancreatic insufficiency than most people think. Some of the conditions that cause EPI are:
- chronic pancreatitis
- cystic fibrosis
- obstructions of the pancreatic duct (cancer, tumors)
- Shwachman-Diamond syndrome (SDS)
- Celiac disease
- Crohn disease
- Autoimmune pancreatitis: This is often caused by immunoglobulin G4 (IgG4)-related disease and can progress to EPI.
- Zollinger-Ellison syndrome
- GI and pancreatic surgical procedures
What Are The Symptoms of Pancreatic Insufficiency?
When trying to discover whether your symptoms may match those of pancreas insufficiency one has to remember that you may not have the exact same symptoms that Tom, Dick or Harriet experience. In fact …
Only your licensed physician will know (hopefully anyway) for sure whether you have pancreatic insufficiency or parasites (example only).
These are the symptoms most often found to be relevant to exocrine pancreatic insufficiency:
Frequent diarrhea. EPI can cause problems with the digestion process. As a result undigested food can move too quickly through the digestive tract.
Not all people experience this symptom.
There are many causes of diarrhea so just because you have a couple of days of it does not mean you have pancreatic insufficiency.
However, if you do have (been diagnosed) with any of the above conditions that can cause EPI it would be prudent to ask your doctor to test you (especially if you have some of the following symptoms as well).
Weight loss. People with EPI cannot digest fats, proteins, and carbohydrates found in the food they eat, which can result in weight loss.
I’m not talking just a pound or two or even 10 that one may lose on a low fat diet. I’m talking severe weight loss that doesn’t stop even though you are eating two or three healthy meals per day.
If the malabsorption is severe enough you could become skin and bone.
IF your doctor has been oblivious, you need to bring it to his/her attention because severe malabsorption issues could be caused by EPI and you need to get a handle on it.
Gas and bloating. People with EPI cannot properly digest the food they eat, which can result in uncomfortable symptoms like gas and bloating.
Stomach pain. The gas and bloating caused by maldigestion in people with EPI will frequently result in stomach pain.
Foul-smelling, greasy stools (steatorrhea). Steatorrhea is a type of bowel movement that is oily, floats, smells really bad, and is difficult to flush.
People with EPI are not able to absorb all of the fat that they eat, so undigested fat is excreted, resulting in stools that look oily or greasy.
Not all people experience this symptom.
Talk to your doctor if you notice oil droplets floating in the toilet bowl or stools that float or stick to the sides of the bowl and are hard to flush because these may be signs that you have EPI.
Does your poop float, sink or actually swim around the toilet bowl doing the backstroke? Maybe one day it floats, the next it sinks or maybe it even “bobs” up and down?
Are you the type of person who NEVER checks out your poop?
Yes you do! You look don’t you?
I like to play a game I call “Pilot to Bombardier.”
Of course I have to look and view the bomb damage! And it is important to check out what that poo actually looks like.
What color is it?
Is it rock solid or nice and soft?
Oh wow it’s floating and looks like a battle cruiser!
And if you’re like me you have probably wondered what makes my poop float?
If you asked your mom when you were a kid “Hey mom why does my poop float?” She might have come up with a very brainy answer like “It floats son because it’s full of fiber. And fiber floats.” And …
Was she right or wrong?
Scientifically she’s wrong. But who knew right? It probably sounded good to her at the time! But you probably still wondered, even as a kid, why some poop floats and why some sinks, right?
If you are concerned about exocrine pancreatic insufficiency this discussion about poop may help because knowing your poop can actually save your life (in some cases). Yes, I am venturing off the path a bit, talking about stool appearance but bear with me and things will come out fine.
Ask Yourself “Is My Poop Looking Healthy?”
Your poop can actually tell you how healthy you are; at least to some degree. If your stool looks like a nice sized snake (not a skinny little devil suffering from starvation), is easily evacuated and looks like #4, in the following Bristol stool chart (yes the folks at the University of Bristol actually did a poop study and then published the study in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology), then chances are you probably have a well, oiled, finely tuned intestinal tract.
What are the chances that you’ll now be looking at and rating your poop?
You’ll do it all the time!
If you ever happen to see that your poop looks like a nightcrawler (big long worm) as seen in the next chart top row, far right, rather than a nice sausage-shaped candy bar with peanuts #3 or a smooth healthy snake #4 you may want to make an appointment with your doctor.
Stools that look like an emaciated snake or a long, big worm may signal a colon tumor or polyps.
I think we’ve covered most of the important, basic information regarding exocrine pancreatic insufficiency and poop. If you think you have exocrine pancreatic insufficiency you should schedule an appointment with your doctor and get evaluated. Should you be diagnosed with EPI your doctor will likely prescribe pancreatic enzymes (Creon, etc) to help regulate your digestion.