EPI Glossary

Your doctor may use the following terms when talking about exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) or related conditions, like chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, pancreatectomy, cystic fibrosis, and others.


An enzyme that breaks down carbohydrates.


Also known as “carbs,” are the body’s main source of fuel. They provide energy needed by the brain, nervous system, and muscles to function properly. Carbs are found mainly in starchy foods like bread, cereal, pasta, rice, fruit, and vegetables. Carbohydrates are broken down into sugars during digestion.

Chronic pancreatitis (CP):

An inflammatory disease of the pancreas that results in irreversible damage of the pancreas. It can be associated with flare-ups of severe abdominal pain.

Cystic fibrosis (CF):

A genetic disease that causes the body to produce thick, sticky mucus. This mucus clogs the lungs and leads to infections in the lungs. The mucus also affects the digestive system by clogging the pancreas, preventing the pancreas from releasing digestive enzymes needed for proper digestion, which may lead to EPI.


A protein that causes a chemical reaction within the body.

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI):

A condition wherein your pancreas doesn’t make or secrete enough digestive enzymes for proper digestion. May also be referred to as pancreatic exocrine insufficiency (PEI).


An enzyme that breaks down fats.


Impaired absorption of nutrients by the small intestine.


Impaired digestion of food.


Produced by the mucous membranes, mucus is a sticky substance that moistens surfaces.


Located in the abdomen behind the lower part of the stomach, the pancreas aids in digestion. It contains both exocrine glands (which produce enzymes that help the body digest food) and endocrine glands (which produce hormones, including insulin, that help control blood sugar levels in the body).


The medical term for the surgical removal of the pancreas. The surgery may involve removal of the entire pancreas (total pancreatectomy) or only a portion of the pancreas (partial pancreatectomy).

Pancreatic cancer:

A disease in which cancer cells form in the tissues of the pancreas.


An enzyme that breaks down proteins.


The medical term for foul-smelling, greasy stools that are light-colored and may contain oil droplets. These stools are the result of fats that are not absorbed properly by the digestive tract.

Sources: 1. Fieker A, Philpott J, Armand M. Enzyme replacement therapy for pancreatic insufficiency: present and future. Clin Exp Gastroenterol. 2011:4:55-73. 2. Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Merck Manual Home Health Handbook website. http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/disorders-of-nutrition/overview-of-nutrition/carbohydrates,-proteins,-and-fats. Accessed October 6, 2016. 3. Longo DL, Fauci AS, Kasper DL, et al, eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 18th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2012. 4. Keller J, Layer P. Human pancreatic exocrine response to nutrients in health and disease. Gut. 2005;54(suppl 6):vi1-vi28. 5. Pancreatic cancer surgery. American Cancer Society website. http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/PancreaticCancer/DetailedGuide/pancreatic-cancer-treating-surgery. Updated April 5, 2016. Accessed October 5, 2016. 6. Domínguez-Muñoz JE. Pancreatic enzyme therapy for pancreatic exocrine insufficiency. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2007;9(2):116-122.