Pediatric Pancreatic Insufficiency

As a designated National Pancreas Foundation Center of Excellence, Children's Health℠ offers leading tools, expertise and techniques to treat pancreatic insufficiency in children. Our experts will help your child avoid the complications that this condition can cause.

We’ll also make every effort to educate you and your child about pancreatic insufficiency and your child’s treatment plan. That way, we can all work together to offer your child the best care possible, both at home and in the clinic.

Dallas

214-456-8000
Fax: 214-456-1206
Ste F4500

Plano

469-497-2505
Fax: 469-497-2511
Ste P3500

Park Cities

469-488-7000
Fax: 469-488-7001
Ste 106

Request an Appointment with codes: Gastroenterology (GI)

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What is Pediatric Pancreatic Insufficiency?

When a child’s pancreas does not make enough enzymes, it’s called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) or pancreatic insufficiency. Enzymes are important proteins that help regulate how cells work.

Your child needs a specific type of enzyme, called digestive enzymes, to digest food, absorb nutrients and grow. Since children with EPI do not have enough of these vital enzymes, they might struggle to gain weight or maintain a healthy weight for their age.

Pancreatic insufficiency is not common in children. However, it is the most common nutrition-related complications associated with cystic fibrosis.

What are the signs and symptoms of Pediatric Pancreatic Insufficiency?

How is Pediatric Pancreatic Insufficiency diagnosed?

Our team will likely perform some or all of the following tests:

  • Physical examination. Your child’s doctor will check for visible signs and symptoms of pancreatic insufficiency, such as stomach bloating, pain or being underweight.
  • Blood work. Taking a sample of your child’s blood and sending it to a lab for testing can show your child’s doctors whether your child has a fat-soluble vitamin deficiency. These vitamins (A, D, E, and K) are important in vision, bone health and more. If these vitamin levels are low, your child’s care team will prescribe vitamin supplements and monitor their levels in the blood on an ongoing basis.
  • Stool test. Doctors will check your child’s stool for certain enzymes that help with digestion. This information can help them detect pancreatic insufficiency.
  • Endoscopic pancreatic function test (ePFT). For an ePFT, your child will be under anesthesia. Your child’s doctor will insert a narrow, bendable tube with a built-in light and camera, called an endoscope, into your child’s mouth and feed it down to the small intestine. Your child’s doctor will collect fluid in the small intestine that they can analyze.

What causes Pediatric Pancreatic Insufficiency?

One of the most common causes of pediatric pancreatic insufficiency is cystic fibrosis, a rare genetic condition that disrupts the body’s mucus production across the body, including the pancreas. Other genetic conditions in which EPI is seen include:

  • Shwachman (Diamond) syndrome
  • Pearson’s syndrome
  • Johanson-Blizzard syndrome
  • Isolated enzyme deficiencies
  • Pancreatic agenesis
  • Hypoplasia of the pancreas
  • Chronic pancreatitis

How is Pediatric Pancreatic Insufficiency treated?

Treating your child’s pancreatic insufficiency is a team effort. Our team of specialists will work closely with your family to create a treatment plan that reflects your child’s preferences, habits, lifestyle and overall health. That team includes:

  • Pediatric gastroenterologists
  • Dietitians and psychologists who specialize in treating children with pancreatic insufficiency

Most of the time, children with pancreatic insufficiency can manage the condition with:

  • Oral medications and supplements. These include enzyme replacements and fat-soluble vitamins. This helps offset the shortages in your child’s pancreas. Your child can take these medications and supplements with each meal.
  • Eating more calories. Eating foods with more calories helps your child gain weight.
  • Dietician support. Our dieticians are highly trained in helping children with pancreatic insufficiency eat foods that will help them gain weight. We will also prioritize including foods in your child’s nutrition plan that they like. We also know the best types of vitamins to supplement with to correct any fat-soluble vitamin deficiencies.

In addition to prioritizing what works best for your child, our experts are also a part of a network of centers across the country conducting ongoing studies into pediatric pancreatic health. We know what the latest research has found because we’ve helped contribute to it. We’ll incorporate those findings into your child’s care so you can trust our decision-making is rooted in the latest scientific advances.

Pediatric Pancreatic Insufficiency Doctors and Providers

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is there a cure for EPI?

    No, but if your child sticks to their care plan, they should achieve their estimated height, gain weight. They will likely have to continue to take enzymes with meals and snacks throughout their life, but we are here help your child and you adjust to this new schedule of medications.

  • Will my child have to avoid certain foods?

    While some foods might make your child’s EPI symptoms worse, we can adjust the enzymes we prescribe so your child won’t have to avoid too many foods. However, extremely greasy foods can cause gas, bloating and greasy stools in children with pancreatic insufficiency no matter how effective their enzymes are. So as always, a healthy balanced nutrition plan will give your child the best possible health outcomes.

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