Your pancreas is a 6 inch (15.24 cm) gland located below your liver, between your stomach and your spine. The pancreas is made up of 3 parts: a “head” that is tucked into the duodenum (the upper part of the small intestine); a flattened, longer “body;” and a “tail” that is connected to the spleen.
Your pancreas makes potent digestive enzymes and hormones that help manage blood glucose (blood sugar). Normally, these enzymes and hormones do not become active until they exit the pancreas and enter other parts of the body.
Your pancreas also produces bicarbonates that neutralize stomach acids. Small ducts (tubes) move these fluids into a larger pancreatic duct, down into the duodenum. The common bile duct also carries bile (a substance that breaks down fats) from your liver and gall bladder through the head of the pancreas into your small intestine.
An inflammation of the pancreas is called pancreatitis. Pancreatitis can either be acute (a sudden, sharp, and/ or severe attack) or chronic (recurring and/or lasting for a long period of time). When the pancreas is inflamed, digestive enzymes become activated while still inside the pancreas, which can cause the pancreas to begin “digesting” its own tissues.
The two most common causes of pancreatitis are gallstones (bile that has hardened into little pebble-like masses) and chronic, heavy alcohol use. Pancreatitis can also result from certain diseases or injury. Pancreatic pseudocysts can develop as a serious complication of pancreatitis.
A pancreatic cyst is a closed sac lined with epithelium and located on or in your pancreas. Pancreatic cysts contain fluid.
They can range from benign pseudocysts (see below) to malignant cysts (cancerous and spreading). There are several different types of pancreatic cysts. Some pancreatic cysts result from certain rare diseases, such as von Hippel-Lindau disease (a genetic disorder).
A pancreatic pseudocyst is a type of cyst that it is not contained inside an enclosed sac of its own with an epithelium lining. Instead, the pseudocyst forms within a cavity or space inside the pancreas and is surrounded by fibrous tissue. Pancreatic pseudocysts do contain inflammatory pancreatic fluid (particularly the digestive enzyme amalyse) or semisolid matter.
Pancreatic cysts, including pseudocysts, can be asymptomatic (having no obvious symptoms) or can produce moderate to severe symptoms. Symptoms may occur within days to months following a pancreatitis attack. When present, the most common symptoms include:
Rarely, complications can come from pancreatic cysts/pseudocysts, including:
Pancreatic pseudocysts can be hard to diagnose because the symptoms can be similar to various other diseases. Since the pancreas is located deep inside the abdominal cavity, cross-sectional imaging is often used to locate and diagnose pancreatic cysts and pseudocysts.
Testing may include:
Most pseudocysts resolve themselves without treatment, over time. However, when symptoms become persistent, complications emerge, or cysts become larger than 6 centimeters in size, drainage is indicated.
There are three methods of cyst drainage:
Endoscopic drainage is gaining acceptance because it is less invasive, has less risk of complications than open surgery, does not require an external drain, and its long-term success rate is high.
Pseudocysts should be drained when they are causing symptoms. Some cysts require surgical removal if there is a concern for cancer or a precancerous condition.
In most cases, the prognosis is generally positive for people who undergo treatment for pancreatic cysts and pseudocysts.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition.
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