Pancreatic Insufficiency

Pancreatic insufficiency is a disease that plays a major role in internal medicine. Behind an insufficiency there is always a restriction in the functionality of an organ or an organ system.

Pancreatic Insufficiency

What is pancreatic insufficiency?

The pancreas is, as the name suggests, a large gland that is very important in relation to human metabolism. In this context, the islets of Langerhans, which are responsible for the production of the vital insulin, are well known.

In the case of pancreatic insufficiency, there is a complete loss of functionality as the disease progresses. In this context, pancreatic insufficiency means that the production and release of the enzymes important for healthy digestion in humans is reduced or completely stopped. The provision of hormones is also classic in pancreatic insufficiency. See gradinmath for What is Insulin Resistance.


Pancreatic insufficiency can have various causes. Overall, these lead to damage to the glandular tissue.

Pancreatic insufficiency is usually the result of a previous illness such as a long-lasting and constantly recurring inflammation, a tumor, the growth of a cyst or cystic fibrosis.

In addition, pancreatic insufficiency can be caused by gastrointestinal diseases, stomach ulcers, diseases of the bile and bile ducts and by so-called autoimmune diseases.

The pancreas is a sensitive and very complex organ, which can be difficult to treat if there is insufficient or no treatment. If pancreatic insufficiency occurs, this can also have serious consequences for other organs.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency only becomes noticeable when organ performance has already fallen to around ten percent. The first symptoms are often nausea and vomiting after eating fatty foods, since fat can only be digested insufficiently. In the further course, greasy, shiny, foul-smelling diarrhea occurs, and the stool is usually very light in color.

Due to the insufficient intake of nutrients, those affected lose a lot of weight, even though they eat enough food. Vitamin deficiencies can also occur: A lack of vitamin K can result in an increased tendency to bleed, for example, and too little vitamin A impairs vision.

If too much undigested food gets into the large intestine, the result is excessive gas formation, which triggers painful flatulence. Inflammation of the pancreas associated with pancreatic insufficiency is noticeable through upper abdominal pain radiating to the back.

The endogenous pancreatic insufficiency primarily affects the sugar metabolism: Characteristic signs are excessive thirst, increased urination and a drop in physical and mental performance.

The excessive increase in blood sugar can lead to a metabolic imbalance (ketoacidosis), which becomes noticeable through increasing apathy, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. The fruity or acetone-like bad breath is typical. Hypoglycaemia is also possible: signs of this are cold sweats, tremors and clouded consciousness.

Diagnosis & History

The focus of diagnostics in pancreatic insufficiency is on laboratory tests relating to various enzymes in the urine and serum, as well as stool tests.

Clear conclusions about pancreatic insufficiency can be drawn by determining the enzyme elastase. The laboratory examinations are supplemented by imaging methods such as ultrasound examinations, computer or magnetic resonance imaging. It is also important to examine the patient with regard to their condition.

In addition to painful symptoms, pancreatic insufficiency is accompanied by extreme nausea and persistent vomiting. Typical of a so-called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency are a light “fat stool” or diarrhea. In the case of pancreatic insufficiency, this quality of the stool is based on a disruption in the metabolism of the fats and proteins contained in the food.

Depending on the type of pancreatic insufficiency, the pain that occurs can occur at different times of the day and vary in severity. There is pressure pain in the upper abdomen. Patients also lose their appetite and generally feel unwell when pancreatic insufficiency occurs.


Since excessive alcohol consumption can trigger pancreatic insufficiency via inflammatory processes, this leads to further impairment of the pancreas if not stopped immediately. In the case of continued alcohol abuse, no improvement can be achieved therapeutically either, so that accompanying alcohol therapy is urgently recommended.

If alcohol continues to be consumed, severe upper abdominal pain, flatulence and diarrhea regularly occur; Weight loss and malnutrition due to insufficient fat digestion and diabetic symptoms such as unbearable thirst, frequent urination and dizziness up to coma. Constrictions caused by stones, pancreatic cysts and malignant tumors of the pancreas are common.

A yellowish tinge of the skin, jaundice, indicates the occurrence of complications such as insufficient outflow of bile. This also applies to one-fifth of patients who developed pancreatic insufficiency due to a genetic defect or from unknown causes. Lifelong abstinence from alcohol is essential for all pancreatic patients.

Pancreatic insufficiency is not curable, it usually leads to lifelong digestive disorders and insulin-dependent diabetes. Complications can also occur if the therapeutic instructions are followed, but are much less common in this case.

When should you go to the doctor?

If irregularities or discomfort occur after eating fatty foods, developments should be monitored further. If the symptoms persist or increase in intensity, a visit to the doctor is advisable. In case of nausea and vomiting as well as loss of appetite, a doctor is required. If you experience unwanted weight loss, uncomfortable and painful gas, or a feeling of fullness, there is cause for concern.

Pain in the upper abdomen or a decrease in physical resilience should be presented to a doctor. Since numerous complications can occur when taking pain medication, this should only take place after consultation with a doctor. An increase in the tendency to bleed or disorders of various functional abilities must be examined and clarified by a doctor. Excessive thirst, apathy, or withdrawal from social life are other signs of a health disorder.

Diffuse deficiency symptoms, diarrhea or foul-smelling excrements should be examined more closely by a doctor. In these cases, there is a disease that needs to be treated. There is a need for action if there is a decrease in the ability to concentrate, problems in coping with everyday life or clouding of consciousness. A doctor must be consulted, as the quality of life is already severely restricted in these cases.

Treatment & Therapy

Since there is both the endo- and the exocrine form of pancreatic insufficiency, varying treatment methods are also used. These also depend on the triggers of the disease and the extent and existing symptoms of pancreatic insufficiency.

In principle, an occurring pancreatic insufficiency cannot be cured afterwards. The basis for the therapy of pancreatic insufficiency, which is intended to alleviate the symptoms and make life with this disease possible, consists on the one hand on a healthy lifestyle and on the other hand on the intake of specially developed active ingredients. With regard to a gentle diet in the case of pancreatic insufficiency, it is important not to consume any alcoholic beverages and to ensure that the food is composed of vitamins and minerals.

These measures are usually supplemented by a dietary choice of food, for which diet margarines are mainly recommended in the context of pancreatic insufficiency.

Drug therapy for pancreatic insufficiency is mainly about taking pancreatic-relevant enzymes to support the function. The treatment of any previous or concomitant diseases must also be considered in the case of pancreatic insufficiency.

Outlook & Forecast

Pancreatic insufficiency is considered irreversible. This means that the suffering cannot be cured. However, it is definitely possible to achieve a more favorable course of pancreatic insufficiency through appropriate treatment measures, so that the symptoms are tolerable.

The prognosis of the disease also depends on various factors. So it plays an important role whether only one function of the pancreas, such as the endocrine or exocrine function, is affected, or several. The cause of the pancreatic insufficiency is also important.

Pancreatic insufficiency reduces the life expectancy of those affected, because the weakness of the pancreas is often associated with other serious diseases. The prognosis is particularly negative if the condition is caused by constant excessive consumption of alcohol. On the other hand, however, the prospects can be improved by consistently avoiding alcoholic beverages.

Basically, about half of all patients suffering from pancreatic insufficiency die after ten years. At least a longer life expectancy can be achieved through drug therapy, abstinence from tobacco products, a healthy diet and an adjustment in lifestyle.

Many patients are afraid of the large number of drugs they need for treatment. However, the drugs are absolutely necessary to stabilize fat digestion as much as possible, which in turn has a positive effect on the prognosis.


Prevention of pancreatic insufficiency is only possible indirectly by avoiding harmful stimulants such as alcohol and following a balanced diet. If symptoms of the gastrointestinal tract, the bile or the duodenum or the liver occur, a specialist should be consulted in order to eliminate any risk of secondary diseases of the pancreas in good time.

When taking medication, it is important to consider their side effects in relation to the risk of pancreatic insufficiency. Persistent malnutrition should also be avoided with a view to preventing pancreatic insufficiency.


In the case of pancreatic insufficiency, those affected only have access to special aftercare measures in a few cases. They are often severely limited, so that the person affected by this disease is primarily dependent on rapid diagnosis and treatment to avoid serious complications. Therefore, a doctor should be contacted at the first symptoms and signs of the disease in order to prevent the occurrence of further complications or complaints.

Most patients with this disease are dependent on taking various medications and drugs to permanently relieve the symptoms. The person concerned should always observe the correct dosage and regular intake. If anything is unclear or you have any questions, consult a doctor first.

Furthermore, a healthy lifestyle with a healthy diet generally has a positive effect on the course of pancreatic insufficiency and can alleviate the symptoms. Most patients depend on the help and support of friends and family to go about their daily lives. Contact with other people affected can be very useful, as this often leads to an exchange of information.

You can do that yourself

Patients suffering from pancreatic insufficiency can check and optimize their lifestyle. The consumption of harmful substances is to be refrained from in principle. In particular, the consumption of alcohol should be stopped completely as soon as possible in the case of pancreatic insufficiency.

In the case of pancreatic insufficiency, self-help measures depend on the cause of the disease. In the case of alcohol abuse, the person affected needs help and support to cope with the symptoms. If withdrawal symptoms occur in everyday life without consuming alcohol, an addiction counseling center should be consulted. The diet should also be optimized and adapted to the needs of the organism. The food should be rich in vitamins and balanced. Together with the doctor, a diet is worked out that is helpful in relieving the symptoms. Greasy meals or hot spices lead to an increase in the existing symptoms.

If a tumor is present, the immune system can be supported by a healthy diet. According to the latest research, cruciferous foods are said to be helpful in the fight against cancer. Eating should be divided into several meals a day. Doctors recommend a division into five to seven meals a day. It is important to ensure that the amount consumed per meal is not excessive. The procedure reduces the discomfort in the gastrointestinal tract and has a relieving effect on human digestion.