Objectives To assess whether pancreatic function is impaired in children with severe acute malnutrition, is different between edematous vs nonedematous malnutrition, and improves by nutritional rehabilitation.
Study design We followed 89 children with severe acute malnutrition admitted to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi. Stool and blood samples were taken on admission and 3 days after initial stabilization to determine exocrine pancreatic function via fecal elastase-1 (FE-1) and serum trypsinogen and amylase levels.
Results A total of 33 children (37.1%) had nonedematous severe acute malnutrition, whereas 56 (62.9%) had edematous severe acute malnutrition. On admission, 92% of patients showed evidence of pancreatic insufficiency as measured by FE-1 <200 mu g/g of stool. Patients with edematous severe acute malnutrition were more likely to have low FE-1 (98% vs 82.8%, P=.026). FE-1 levels remained low in these individuals throughout the assessment period. Serum trypsinogen was elevated (> 57 ng/mL) in 28% and amylase in 21% (> 110 U/L) of children, suggesting pancreatic inflammation.
Conclusion Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is prevalent in children with severe acute malnutrition and especially in children with edematous severe acute malnutrition. In addition, biochemical signs suggestive of pancreatitis are common in children with severe acute malnutrition. These results have implications for standard rehabilitation treatment of children with severe acute malnutrition who may benefit from pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy.