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Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 2009;23(3):425-39. doi: 10.1016/j.bpg.2009.02.013.

Tests of pancreatic exocrine function - clinical significance in pancreatic and non-pancreatic disorders.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Israelitisches Krankenhaus, Hamburg, Germany.


The pancreas functions as the main factory for digestive enzymes and therefore enables food utilisation. Pancreatic exocrine insufficiency, partial or complete loss of digestive enzyme synthesis, occurs primarily in disorders directly affecting pancreatic tissue integrity. However, other disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, such as coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome or gastric resection can either mimic or cause pancreatic exocrine insufficiency. The overt clinical symptoms of pancreatic exocrine insufficiency are steatorrhoea and maldigestion, which frequently become apparent in advanced stages. Several direct and indirect function tests are available for assessment of pancreatic function but until today diagnosis of excretory insufficiency is difficult as in mild impairment clinically available function tests show limitations of diagnostic accuracy. This review focuses on diagnosis of pancreatic exocrine insufficiency in pancreatic and non-pancreatic disorders.

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