Pancreas Function Tests
Secretin pancreatic function test
The secretin pancreatic function test measures the ability of the pancreas to respond to the hormone secretin. The small intestine produces secretin in the presence of partially digested food. Normally, secretin stimulates the pancreas to secrete a fluid with a high concentration of bicarbonate. This fluid neutralizes stomach acid and is necessary to allow a number of enzymes to function in the breakdown and absorption of food. People with diseases involving the pancreas (for example, chronic pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, or pancreatic cancer) might have abnormal pancreatic function.
In performing a secretin pancreatic function test, a healthcare professional places a tube down the throat, into the stomach, then into the duodenum (upper section of small intestine). Secretin is inserted and the contents of the duodenal secretions are aspirated (removed with suction) for about an hour and analyzed.
Fecal elastase test
The fecal elastase test measures elastase, an enzyme found in fluids produced by the pancreas. Elastase digests and degrades various kinds of proteins. During this test, a patient's stool sample is analyzed for the presence of elastase.
Computed tomography (CT) scan with contrast dye
This scan can help rule out other causes of abdominal pain and can also determine whether there is inflammation (swelling), scarring, or fluid collections in or around the pancreas.
An abdominal ultrasound can detect gallstones and fluid from inflammation in the abdomen (ascites). It also can show an enlarged common bile duct, an abscess, or a pseudocyst.
Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
During an ERCP, a healthcare professional places a tube down the throat, into the stomach, then into the small intestine. A small catheter is passed into the pancreas and bile ducts, and dye is injected to help the doctor see the structure of the common bile duct, other bile ducts, and the pancreatic duct on an X-ray.
During this test, a probe attached to a lighted scope is placed down the throat and into the stomach. Sound waves show images of organs in the abdomen. Endoscopic ultrasound might reveal gallstones and can be helpful in diagnosing severe pancreatitis when an invasive test such as ERCP might make the condition worse.
Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography
This kind of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used to look at the bile ducts and the pancreatic duct. MRI/MRCP gives very good imaging of the pancreas and does not use radiation. (These are imaging tests and not pancreatic function tests.)