During your regular visits, your doctor may order blood work if you’re experiencing symptoms that seem to be outside your norm. If they detect a deficiency, they may recommend taking a supplement to fill that gap, Dr. Hart says. Your doctor can help you determine the best dosage for a supplement and recommend products accordingly.
You may notice some pretty intense weight loss.
Malabsorption of nutrients can also spell trouble because those nutrients give you energy and help your body perform all sorts of essential functions. So, naturally, if you don’t get enough of them, you might start to experience unintentional weight loss, Nuzhat Ahmad, MD, vice chief of gastroenterology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, tells SELF. This can be really unsettling—especially if the weight drops quickly and you start to feel weakness or heavy fatigue.
Again, this can feel kinda stressful if it happens to you, but there are solid treatment options available to help you feel better. Dr. Ahmad points to pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT). She says it’s the “cornerstone” therapy for exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. The prescription medication acts as a substitute for the missing digestive enzymes in your body, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Essentially, you would take PERT with your meals to help your body break down the food, so you can actually absorb the nutrients you need.
As a result, your weight should hopefully go back up. And if it doesn’t, your doctor may recommend that you eat a high-fat diet for a short period of time, since high-fat foods are typically higher in calories, Dr. Ahmad says.
Your bowel movements could feel a bit out of whack.
For people who have untreated EPI, diarrhea is to be expected, Dr. Othman says. You may notice loose, watery, or frequent bowel movements, and this tends to happen because the food you’re eating doesn’t get properly digested and quickly passes through the GI tract. While it’s in your gut, “bacteria ferment that undigested food” and water collects around it, he says. Cue the diarrhea.
If you don’t experience diarrhea, it’s likely that you’ll notice fatty-looking stool instead. (Think: pale, oily, and particularly pungent compared to your usual, per the Cleveland Clinic.) “Because the fat is not digested, you may see fat or oil droplets in the stool,” Dr. Othman explains. There may even be an oily residue on top of the toilet bowl after you go, he says.
PERT should help with either of these issues since it helps your body break down nutrients in your food, which should, in turn, regulate your bowel movements, Dr. Othman says.
You might experience stomach pain for various reasons.
Another potential side effect of poor digestion, per Dr. Hart: gas pain or uncomfortable bloating. People diagnosed with EPI can also develop chronic pancreatitis, a condition in which digestive enzymes become trapped inside the pancreas instead of flowing out into the upper intestine. This can cause severe stomach pain, pain in the upper abdomen that spreads into the back, or stomach pain that gets worse when you eat or drink alcohol.