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Pancreas divisum

Pancreas divisum is a birth defect in which parts of the pancreas do not join together. The pancreas is a long flat organ located between the stomach and spine. It helps in food digestion.

Causes

Pancreas divisum is the most common birth defect of the pancreas. In many cases, this defect goes undetected and causes no problems. The cause of the defect is unknown.

As a baby develops in the womb, two separate pieces of tissue join together to form the pancreas. Each part has a tube, called a duct. When the parts join together, a final duct, called the pancreatic duct, is formed. Fluid and digestive juices (enzymes) produced by the pancreas normally flow through this duct.

If the ducts do not join while the baby is developing in the womb, pancreas divisum results. Fluid from the two parts of the pancreas drains into separate areas of the upper portion of the small intestine (duodenum). This occurs in 5 to 15% of people.

If a pancreatic duct becomes blocked, swelling and tissue damage (pancreatitis) may develop.

Symptoms

Note: Unless you have pancreatitis, you will not have symptoms.

Exams and Tests

Treatment

The following treatments may be needed if you have symptoms of the condition, or if pancreatitis keeps returning:

  • ERCP with a cut to enlarge the opening where the pancreatic duct drains
  • Placement of a stent to prevent the duct from getting blocked

You may need surgery if these treatments do not work.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most of the time, the outcome is good.

Possible Complications

The main complication of pancreas divisum is pancreatitis.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you develop symptoms of this disorder.

Prevention

Because this condition is present at birth, there is no known way to prevent it.

References

Forsmark CE. Pancreatitis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 146.

Update Date: 2/10/2014

Updated by: Todd Eisner, MD, Private practice specializing in Gastroenterology, Boca Raton, FL. Affiliate Assistant Professor, Florida Atlantic University School of Medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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