When partially digested food from your stomach arrives in
your small intestine, your small intestine produces a hormone called secretin.
Secretin makes your pancreas release a fluid that contains inactive digestive
enzymes and bicarbonates. This fluid moves from your pancreas into the upper
portion of your small intestine, your duodenum. The fluids neutralize your stomach
acids to activate your pancreatic enzymes. These enzymes help your body break
food down and absorb its nutrients.
Some pancreatic diseases such as cystic fibrosis, chronic
pancreatitis, and pancreatic cancer make it harder for your pancreas to respond
to secretin. When this happens, your pancreas can’t deliver enough digestive
enzymes to your small intestine to help the digestion process. This is called
Cystic fibrosis (CF), pancreatitis, and pancreatic cancer can
cause pancreatic insufficiency.
CF is a genetic disease. If you have CF, you may develop
mucus in your lungs and pancreas. Mucus can obstruct the ducts leading out of
the pancreas and make it hard for your body to deliver pancreatic fluid to your
duodenum. Children who have pancreatic insufficiency often have CF. They may
also be malnourished.
Pancreatitis is an inflammation of your pancreas. If you
have pancreatitis, enzymes that are normally inactive until they reach your
small intestine become activated earlier. They start digesting while still in your
pancreas. The symptoms of pancreatitis include abdominal pain, nausea, and
If you have chronic pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer, you
may have damage to the cells that produce pancreatic enzymes. You may also have
damage to the duct that delivers these enzymes to your small intestine. This
will lead to insufficient pancreatic enzymes in your small intestine to
properly digest food. In adults, pancreatic insufficiency is most commonly
associated with pancreatitis. However, less often, damage can also be caused by
Your doctor will need to perform several tests to diagnose
The secretin stimulation test can show them how your pancreas
functions in response to secretin. It can help your doctor learn how your pancreas
works during digestion. It’s also called the pancreatic function test.
This test is invasive and conducted only when other evidence
suggests you have pancreatic insufficiency.
for the Test
You’ll need to fast for 12 hours before your secretin
stimulation test. Your doctor will ask you to avoid eating any food or drinking
any liquids, including water. Undergoing this test on an empty stomach reduces
the risk of complications.
Your doctor will test how your pancreas responds to secretin
by inserting a tube through your nose, into your esophagus, and through your
stomach until it reaches your duodenum. Your doctor will then inject secretin
intravenously into your body. If your body releases pancreatic fluid in
response to the secretin, that fluid will be removed through the tube sitting
in your duodenum within an hour or two.
of the Test
You may experience irritation in your nose and a gagging
sensation when your doctor inserts the tube. There’s also a small risk that the
tube could be inserted into your trachea and go into your lungs, instead of your
esophagus. However, your doctor will make sure the tube is placed correctly
before continuing with the test.
If your test results are abnormal, this means you have some
degree of pancreatic insufficiency. Abnormal results may mean you have CF,
pancreatitis, or pancreatic cancer. However, abnormal results from this test
alone are not enough for your doctor to diagnose these diseases. They’ll need
to perform other tests to learn what’s causing your pancreatic insufficiency.
It’s not easy to diagnose pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer.
For one thing, many symptoms of pancreatitis are similar to those of pancreatic
cancer. Many of the symptoms aren’t specific to diseases of the pancreas either.
They can point to a number of different diseases. There are also different types
of pancreatitis. You may have acute or chronic pancreatitis. Each type requires
different tests before your doctor can make a diagnosis.
If your doctor suspects you have pancreatitis, they’ll
probably conduct blood work. You may also undergo stool testing and other imaging
If you have chronic pancreatitis, you have a
higher-than-normal risk of contracting pancreatic cancer. If your doctor
believes you might have pancreatic cancer, they’ll order other tests, such as a
biopsy of your pancreas.
Pancreatic disease often manifests with symptoms of
abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Your doctor can use several tests to
diagnose the cause of your symptoms. For example, the secretin stimulation test
allows them to test how your pancreas functions in response to secretin. This
is an important hormone in the digestive process.
If your secretin stimulation test results are abnormal, you
may have a pancreatic disease such as pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, or
cystic fibrosis. Speak with your doctor to learn more about your diagnosis,
treatment, and long-term outlook.