How is EPI diagnosed?
Your doctor may be able to diagnose EPI (exocrine pancreatic insufficiency) based on your medical history and symptoms. So, if you think you could have EPI, the first step you should take is to talk to your doctor. Because EPI can sometimes be difficult to diagnose, it’s important that you open up and be as specific about your symptoms as possible.
When you talk to your doctor, remember to share the following information:
- Any conditions or procedures in your medical history (not just a pancreatic insufficiency diagnosis)
- Your eating habits and diet
- If you drink alcohol or smoke
- Any and all symptoms you’ve been experiencing and the frequency and severity of your symptoms
- When your symptoms started
- If you’ve had unexplained weight loss
- Any differences in your stools and bowel movements
- Any medications or herbal supplements you may be taking
Who can diagnose EPI?
Primary care doctors may be able to diagnose EPI. However, in some cases, they may refer patients to a specialist—usually a gastroenterologist. Gastroenterologists specialize in disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, which includes the stomach, intestines, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder.
The 3 main tests that are used to help confirm an EPI diagnosis
While doctors can often diagnose EPI based on medical history and symptoms, they may decide to use a test to confirm a diagnosis. Several different types of tests can be performed, some of which use stool samples.
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Answers to frequently asked questions
EPI is a condition that affects your pancreas. Your pancreas makes enzymes, which help break down food so that your body can absorb nutrients. If you have EPI, your pancreas does not make enough enzymes to properly break down food.
Underlying conditions and surgical procedures that may cause EPI include cystic fibrosis, chronic pancreatitis, pancreatectomy, and pancreatic cancer. Other conditions and surgical procedures in which EPI has been reported include acute pancreatitis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, and gastrointestinal surgery.
The signs and symptoms of EPI include diarrhea, gas, bloating, stomach pain, unexplained weight loss, and oily, foul-smelling stools (steatorrhea). If you have EPI, you may experience one, some, or all of these symptoms. It’s important to tell your doctor if you have any of these symptoms and let them know about your medical history because EPI is due to an underlying condition or surgical procedure. Only your doctor can determine if EPI is the cause of your symptoms.
Because EPI affects your body’s ability to break down food, it may prevent you from absorbing enough nutrients, resulting in serious complications, such as malnutrition. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor if you think you might have EPI. If your doctor diagnoses you with EPI and prescribes a treatment, it’s important to continue taking it exactly as your doctor tells you.