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Pancreatic Pseudocyst

Last updated Dec. 15, 2019

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

James Heilman, MD

A pancreatic pseudocyst is a fluid-filled sac that develops on the pancreas. They contain pools of pancreatic fluid, debris, and destroyed tissue.

What are the other Names for this Condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • None

What is Pancreatic Pseudocyst? (Definition/Background Information)

  • A pancreatic pseudocyst is a fluid-filled sac that develops on the pancreas. They contain pools of pancreatic fluid, debris, and destroyed tissue.
  • Pseudocysts can range in their severity from benign to malignant and cancer-causing.
  • Most pancreatic pseudocysts develop after severe or chronic pancreatitis occurs due to the damage that inflammation and swelling cause to the pancreas. 
  • The prognosis will depend the severity of pseudo cyst and underlying cause that resulted in pseudo cyst.

Who gets Pancreatic Pseudocyst? (Age and Sex Distribution)

  • While pancreatic pseudocysts can occur in males and females of all ages, it is more likely to occur in adults.
  • No racial, ethnic or geographical predilection is noted. 

What are the Risk Factors for Pancreatic Pseudocyst? (Predisposing Factors)

Common risk factors of pancreatic pseudocysts include:

  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Severe acute pancreatitis
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Gallstones
  • Abdominal injury

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that one will get the condition. A risk factor increases ones chances of getting a condition compared to an individual without the risk factors. Some risk factors are more important than others.

Also, not having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will not get the condition. It is always important to discuss the effect of risk factors with your healthcare provider.

What are the Causes of Pancreatic Pseudocyst? (Etiology)

  • Most pancreatic pseudocysts occur as a result of pancreas damage or inflammation caused by chronic or severe pancreatitis. Damage occurs in individuals with pancreatitis because digestive enzymes are prematurely activated, which causes pancreas irritation.
  • Cancerous pseudocysts are believed to be caused by genetic mutations. 
  • Abdominal injuries can also cause pseudocysts to develop. When the pancreas becomes punctured or otherwise damaged, fluid can build up and develop into pseudocysts.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatic Pseudocyst?

Common signs and symptoms of pancreatic pseudocysts include:

  • Abdomen bloating
  • Abdomen pain, often persistent 
  • Difficulty eating and Difficulty digesting food
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Fainting and Decreased consciousness
  • Abnormal heartbeat

How is Pancreatic Pseudocyst Diagnosed?

  • It is often difficult to diagnose pancreatic pseudocysts because the signs and symptoms closely resemble other diseases.
  • Often times, a medical professional will conduct several tests. These include:
    • Abdominal CT scan
    • MRI scan of abdomen
    • Endoscopic ultrasound
    • Transabdominal ultrasound

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

What are the possible Complications of Pancreatic Pseudocyst?

  • The pancreatic pseudocyst is susceptible to infection. If this occurs, a pancreatic abscess can develop.
  • It is also possible for the pseudocyst to rupture, which may cause shock or severe hemorrhaging within the abdomen. Severe abdominal shock can result in death
  • If the size of the pseudocyst grows at an uncontrollable rate, it is possible for the pseudocyst to compress and damage surrounding organs.

How is Pancreatic Pseudocyst Treated?

  • Treatment of pancreatic pseudocysts depends on the size and cause of pseudocyst that is present.
  • Often times, small pancreatic pseudocysts get slowly better and go away on their own. If one remains for more than 6 weeks or is found to be more than 5 centimeters in diameter, most medical professionals suggest that they should be treated. Treatment options include:
    • Drainage of the pancreatic pseudocyst by needle aspiration through the skin (per abdonimal needle aspiration)
    • Surgical drainage using a variety of surgical procedures (cystgastrostomy, cysjejunostomy, cystduodenostomy) 

How can Pancreatic Pseudocyst be Prevented?

  • Currently, there are no ways to prevent pancreatic pseudocysts from developing. The best preventative measure to take caution and ensure that pancreatitis does not develop. This is best prevented by reducing the use of alcohol and taking precautions to ensure that gallstones do not form.

What is the Prognosis of Pancreatic Pseudocyst? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

  • To reduce the risk of serious complications, pancreatic pseudocysts should be treated quickly.
  • If treatment is not promptly conducted, toxins from the pseudocyst can enter the bloodstream and cause heart, lung, and kidney problems.
  • The outcome for people who undergo treatment for pancreatic pseudocysts is usually good and they are able to resume normal lives.

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for Pancreatic Pseudocyst:

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Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Sept. 23, 2013
Last updated: Dec. 15, 2019