Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy in Children with Severe Acute Malnutrition: A Randomized Controlled Trial

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To assess the benefits of pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT) in children with complicated severe acute malnutrition.

Study design

We conducted a randomized, controlled trial in 90 children aged 6-60 months with complicated severe acute malnutrition at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Malawi. All children received standard care; the intervention group also received PERT for 28 days.


Children treated with PERT for 28 days did not gain more weight than controls (13.7 ± 9.0% in controls vs 15.3 ± 11.3% in PERT; P = .56). Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency was present in 83.1% of patients on admission and fecal elastase-1 levels increased during hospitalization mostly seen in children with nonedematous severe acute malnutrition (P < .01). Although the study was not powered to detect differences in mortality, mortality was significantly lower in the intervention group treated with pancreatic enzymes (18.6% vs 37.8%; P < .05). Children who died had low fecal fatty acid split ratios at admission. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency was not improved by PERT, but children receiving PERT were more likely to be discharged with every passing day (P = .02) compared with controls.


PERT does not improve weight gain in severely malnourished children but does increase the rate of hospital discharge. Mortality was lower in patients on PERT, a finding that needs to be investigated in a larger cohort with stratification for edematous and nonedematous malnutrition. Mortality in severe acute malnutrition is associated with markers of poor digestive function.

Trial registration 57423639.

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