How to Manage EPI

One of your biggest tasks as someone with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) is to make sure your body gets the right amount of vitamins and nutrients.

Along with treatment, the right diet and lifestyle habits make a big difference. They can also ease symptoms that come with the condition, like diarrhea and stomach pain.

If your condition isn’t severe, these changes might be all you need to treat and manage the disease.

Daily Changes

Ask your doctor or a dietitian about taking on these habits to keep your EPI in check:

  • Take vitamins. You might need to take vitamins A, D, E, and K to replace what your body can’t absorb from food. Check with your doctor before you add any supplements to your diet, though.
  • Try five small meals. Smaller meals more often throughout the day will make it easier for your pancreas to digest what you eat.
  • Don’t drink or smoke. Alcohol and tobacco use can damage your pancreas. Drinking also makes it harder for your body to absorb fat. If you need help stopping these habits, talk to your doctor. There are programs that can make quitting a little easier.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. When you have diarrhea, your body loses a lot of liquid. Be sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated. Other liquids in your diet -- like broth, fruit juices, and drinks without caffeine -- can help, too.
  • Avoid high-fiber meals and diets if you’re taking enzymes to treat your condition. A lot of fiber can make diarrhea and other symptoms worse.
  • Limit fat: If your EPI isn’t related to cystic fibrosis, you can focus on eating a low-fat diet.

Cystic Fibrosis

If you have this genetic disorder and you also have EPI, you need a high-fat, high-calorie diet to make sure your body can work well. That might mean eating 20% to 50% more calories than people who don't have cystic fibrosis. You want a well-balanced diet that has the right amount of salt, fat, and protein. Work with your doctor or dietitian to find a meal plan that works best for you.

Each case of EPI is different, but with treatment, the right diet, and help from your doctor, you can get what you need to stay well.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on December 14, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Freiss, H. The Official Journal of the International Hepato-Pancreato-Billary Association, December 2009.

Medical University of South Carolina Digestive Disease Center: “Pancreatic Insufficiency.”

Lindkvist, B. World Journal of Gastroenterology, November 2013.

Cleveland Clinic: “Pancreas Function Tests,” “Diarrhea.”

The National Pancreas Foundation: “Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency.”

Pezzilli, R. World Journal of Gastroenterology, November 2013.

Cystic Fibrosis Foundation: “Nutrition: Pancreatic Enzyme Therapy in People with Cystic Fibrosis.”

UpToDate: “Overview of the Treatment of Malabsorption.”

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