For an explanation of the pancreas, please see the description under "What is the pancreas?" in Pancreatic Diseases.
What is pancreatic insufficiency?
Pancreatic insufficiency is the inability of the exocrine pancreas to produce and/or transport enough digestive enzymes to break down food in the intestine and to allow its absorption. It typically occurs as a result of progressive pancreatic damage that may be caused by recurrent acute pancreatitis or by chronic pancreatitis due to a variety of conditions. In children, it is most frequently associated with cystic fibrosis (CF) or Shwachman-Diamond Syndrome (SDS). SDS is the second most common cause of inherited pancreatic insufficiency after CF. All those with SDS have some degree of pancreatic insufficiency beginning in infancy. Pancreatic insufficiency can also be associated with type 1 or autoimmune diabetes. It is less frequently but sometimes associated with pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic insufficiency usually presents with symptoms of malabsorption, malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies, and weight loss (or an inability to gain weight in children) and is often associated with steatorrhea (loose, fatty, foul-smelling stools). Diabetes may also be present in adults with pancreatic insufficiency.