Undiagnosed pancreatic exocrine insufficiency and chronic pancreatitis in functional GI disorder patients with diarrhea or abdominal pain

Nicholas J. Talley, Gerald Holtmann, Quoc Nam Nguyen, Peter Gibson, Peter Bampton, Martin Veysey, James Wong, Stephen Philcox, Natasha Koloski, Lisa Bunby, Michael Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Background and Aim: A previous UK study showed that 6.1% of patients with diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS-D) had evidence of severe pancreatic exocrine insufficiency (PEI), but these findings need replication. We aimed to identify the prevalence of PEI based on fecal elastase stool testing in consecutive outpatients presenting with chronic unexplained abdominal pain and/or diarrhea and/or IBS-D. Methods: Patients aged over 40 years presenting to hospital outpatient clinics from six sites within Australia with unexplained abdominal pain and/or diarrhea for at least 3 months and/or IBS-D were studied. Patients completed validated questionnaires and donated a stool sample in which elastase concentration was measured by ELISA. A concentration of < 100 mcg/g stool represented severe and < 200 mcg/g mild to moderate PEI. Patients whose fecal elastase was < 200 mcg/g underwent testing for pancreatic pathology with an endoscopic ultrasound or abdominal CT. Results: Two hundred eighteen patients (mean age of 60 years, 29.4% male) were studied. PEI was found in 4.6% (95% CI 2.2–8.3%) (n = 10), with five patients (2.3% (95% CI 0.8–5.3%) having severe PEI. Only male sex and heavy alcohol use were significantly associated with abnormal versus normal pancreatic functioning. Of seven patients who underwent endoscopic ultrasound or CT, two had features indicative of chronic pancreatitis. Conclusion: One in 50 patients with IBS-D or otherwise unexplained abdominal pain or diarrhea have an abnormal fecal elastase, but unexpected pancreatic insufficiency was detected in only a minority of these. This study failed to confirm the high prevalence of PEI among patients with unexplained GI symptoms previously reported.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1813-1817
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology (Australia)
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • diarrhea and malabsorption
  • functional disorders
  • pancreatic physiology


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