Pancrelipase is a medication that replaces digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas. Most people with cystic fibrosis benefit from taking pancrelipase to aid their digestion.

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Cystic fibrosis is a genetic condition that causes the body to make too much mucus and sweat. Excess mucus production can cause problems with many parts of the body.

The pancreas is commonly affected in people with cystic fibrosis. Excess mucus can clog the ducts in your pancreas. This mucus buildup can damage the cells that create enzymes to help your body break down food and absorb nutrients.

About 80% to 90% of people with cystic fibrosis will need to take pancrelipase to replace their body’s natural production.

Read on to learn more about pancrelipase, including what it is, how it’s used, and possible side effects.

Learn more about cystic fibrosis.

Pancrelipase treats symptoms related to the underproduction of pancreatic enzymes. The underproduction of these enzymes is called pancreatic insufficiency.

Pancrelipase medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat:

In the United States, pancrelipase is sold under the brand names:

  • Creon
  • Pancreaze
  • Perzye
  • Viokage
  • Zenpep

Pancrelipase supplements contain three pancreatic enzymes sourced from pigs:

  • amylase to help break down carbohydrates
  • lipase to help break down fats
  • protease to help break down protein

The ratio of these enzymes varies between medications.

Learn more about pancreatic insufficiency and cystic fibrosis.

As many as 90% of people with cystic fibrosis need pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy. Without it, low levels of pancreatic hormones can lead to malnutrition and inadequate absorption of:

Pancreatic insufficiency is also associated with distal intestinal obstruction syndrome (DIOS), a partial or complete blockage of your bowel. This condition occurs in about 10% to 22% of people with cystic fibrosis.

You can take pancrelipase as a tablet or capsule by mouth with water. You need to take it every time you eat. It’s generally taken 10 to 20 minutes before eating, but if you have trouble swallowing it, you can open a capsule and sprinkle it on an acidic and room-temperature food sauce such as applesauce.

Different pancrelipase products have different ratios of enzymes. It’s essential not to switch between products. Your doctor will specify which medication you should take.

Adults generally take 500 to 2,500 lipase units/kg/dose with each meal. Generally, half a dose is recommended for snacks. Most manufacturers recommend not exceeding 10,000 lipase units daily.

Formulas currently FDA-approved are derived from pig enzymes. Non-pig enzymes are under investigation and are in various stages of research.

The most common side effects of pancrelipase are minor and include:

Rarely, pancrelipase can trigger potentially serious side effects such as anaphylaxis. It’s vital to seek immediate medical attention if you develop symptoms of anaphylaxis such as:

Most people with cystic fibrosis have to take pancreatic enzymes to avoid malnutrition. Pancrelipase rarely causes serious side effects, and it can improve your overall health by increasing the number of calories and micronutrients you absorb. Many people with cystic fibrosis have to eat more daily calories than people without cystic fibrosis.

Anecdotally, distal intestinal obstruction has been reported to occur more often in people who don’t adhere to pancreatic enzyme replacement.

The outlook for cystic fibrosis continues to improve as researchers learn how to best treat it. In the United States, half of people with cystic fibrosis now live to be at least 48.4 years.

Here are some frequently asked questions about pancrelipase for cystic fibrosis.

Does everybody with cystic fibrosis need to take pancrelipase?

About 80% to 90% of people with cystic fibrosis need to take pancreatic enzymes to replace their body’s natural production.

When do people with cystic fibrosis need to start taking pancreatic enzyme replacement?

Most people with cystic fibrosis develop pancreatic insufficiency shortly after birth. Some people will have normal pancreatic function into their adult life.

How does cystic fibrosis cause pancreatic insufficiency?

Cystic fibrosis blocks the ducts in the pancreas that produce enzymes and can damage cells inside your pancreas. This damage can impair the ability of your pancreas to produce enzymes.

Pancrelipase medications replace the digestive enzymes produced by your pancreas. Most people with cystic fibrosis need to take pancrelipase to avoid malnutrition.

Pancrelipase is taken by mouth before each meal to help your body break down and absorb nutrients. Each pancrelipase medication has a different ratio of pancreatic enzymes. Your doctor can help you decide which medication is best for you.