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Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2003 Feb;17(3):467-71.

A prospective, comparative study of the para-aminobenzoic acid test and faecal elastase 1 in the assessment of exocrine pancreatic function.

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Department of Medicine and Gastroenterology, York Hospital, UK.



The assessment of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is part of the routine work-up of patients with persistent diarrhoea or suspected steatorrhoea. Direct and indirect tests for the diagnosis of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency have their drawbacks. Measurement of faecal elastase 1 by enzyme-linked immunoabsorbent assay is a simple, non-invasive, robust test for exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.


We performed a prospective comparison of the para-aminobenzoic acid test and faecal elastase 1 test in 45 patients being investigated for diarrhoea or suspected steatorrhoea. Details of clinical suspicion, imaging and response to treatment were recorded.


Exocrine pancreatic function was normal in 20 patients with normal para-aminobenzoic acid and faecal elastase 1 levels. Eight patients had exocrine pancreatic insufficiency with low para-aminobenzoic acid and faecal elastase 1 levels, which improved with enzyme supplementation. In 14 of the 15 patients with low or borderline low para-aminobenzoic acid and normal faecal elastase 1 levels, a non-pancreatic cause was found; one patient had a false positive para-aminobenzoic acid test. Two had normal para-aminobenzoic acid but low faecal elastase 1 levels. One improved with pancreatic supplementation, and imaging revealed chronic pancreatitis. The other had a false positive faecal elastase 1 test related to profuse diarrhoea.


Faecal elastase 1 estimation is a simple, non-invasive, robust test of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, performed on an out-patient stool sample. Its diagnostic performance is superior to that of the para-aminobenzoic acid test in investigating patients with diarrhoea or suspected steatorrhoea.

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