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Pancreas Divisum

WHAT IS PANCREAS DIVISUM?

Pancreas divisum is a congenital defect of the pancreas. It occurs when two parts of an embryo's pancreas do not fuse together to form one main pancreatic duct, leaving the main pancreatic duct to drain through a smaller opening (minor papilla). The condition may rarely cause recurrent acute pancreatitis.

At Loma Linda University Health, we treat more pancreatic disorders than any other center in the region. We have the ability to diagnose and treat pancreas divisum in addition to other pancreatic and biliary conditions.   

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF PANCREAS DIVISUM?

The majority of individuals born with pancreas divisum will not have any symptoms and don’t need any treatment. However, some people with pancreas divisum will develop symptoms such as:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Acute pancreatitis
  • Chronic pancreatitis

WHAT CAUSES PANCREAS DIVISUM?

Pancreatic divisum happens when the pancreatic duct becomes blocked. This makes it difficult for the pancreatic enzymes that aid in digesting food to drain into the small intestine as they should. This causes swelling and damages the tissue.

HOW IS PANCREAS DIVISUM DIAGNOSED?

The most common way to diagnose pancreas divisum is with magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP). Other methods of diagnosis include:

  • Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
  • Computed tomography (CT scan)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

At Loma Linda University Health, we have access to all of the above technology for diagnosing pancreas divisum.

HOW IS PANCREAS DIVISUM TREATED?

Pancreas divisum does not need to be treated if there are no symptoms present. If symptoms are present, there are varying treatments that may be discussed with a medical provider.

In patients with recurrent pancreatitis due to pancreas divisum, endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) with minor papilla sphincterotomy may be considered. This is done by cutting the minor papilla to enlarge the opening and allow pancreatic enzymes to flow normally. A stent may be inserted into the duct during this procedure to ensure that the duct remains open. However, this procedure can cause pancreatitis in patients, or in rare cases, kidney failure and death.

WHAT ARE THE COMPLICATIONS OF PANCREAS DIVISUM?

In most cases, pancreas divisum does not lead to complications. However, those individuals who experience symptoms and elect to have endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) can experience the complication of acute pancreatitis. This the can lead to kidney failure and death.

NEXT STEPS

  • Stay aware. If you have been diagnosed with pancreas divisum but are not experiencing symptoms, stay aware of the symptoms and seek medical attention immediately if you begin experiencing them. This includes the symptoms of pancreatitis.
  • Seek medical intervention. If left undiagnosed or untreated, pancreatic conditions can lead to more serious complications. To request an evaluation at Loma Linda University Health, contact your provider or schedule the appointment through MyChart.