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What Is a Pancreatic Pseudocyst?

The pancreas -- a spongy, tadpole-shaped organ located behind the stomach -- makes enzymes our bodies need to digest food and hormones to regulate blood sugar levels. If the pancreas is injured, its ducts, which carry enzyme-containing juices, can become blocked. This can lead to the development of a fluid-filled sac called a pancreatic pseudocyst.

A pseudocyst isn't a true cyst, because the wall of the sac is not composed of a specific lining of cells characteristic of a true cyst.

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The most common cause of damage to the pancreas is inflammation, called pancreatitis. A less common cause or contributor is trauma, such as a blow to the abdomen. Pancreatitis is most commonly caused by alcohol use and gallstones.

Rarely, pseudocysts form on the spleen, an organ of the lymphatic system, which fights infection and keeps body fluids in balance. When a pseudocyst of the spleen happens, it is usually caused by trauma.

Here's what you need to know about pseudocysts and their treatment.

Pseudocyst Symptoms

Although the symptoms of pseudocysts may be different for different people, some of the most common are abdominal pain and bloating.

Other symptoms may include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • diarrhea
  • fever
  • a tender mass in abdomen
  • yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity

If you have any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor to determine the cause.

Pseudocyst Diagnosis

Pseudocysts are usually diagnosed with a CT scan, an imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to create images of the body. These scans, which provide more detail than general X-rays, will show a fluid-filled mass around the pancreas.

Other tests that may be used in the workup of a pseudocyst include:

Blood tests. These tests measure levels of certain substances in the blood. A test showing high levels of amylase or lipase, enzymes produced by the pancreas, may indicate inflammation of the pancreas.

Ultrasound (sonography). This is a technique that uses high-frequency sound waves to view internal structures, including the organs of the abdomen.

Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). This is a procedure combining X-ray and the use of an endoscope -- a long, lighted tube that is guided down the patient's throat through the stomach and upper end of the small intestine -- to view and diagnose problems with the digestive organs, including the pancreas.

Pseudocyst Treatment

Often pseudocysts get better and go away on their own. If a pseudocyst is small and not causing serious symptoms, a doctor may want to monitor it with periodic CT scans. If the pseudocyst persists, gets larger, or causes pain, it will require surgical treatment. If not monitored or treated, a pseudocyst can become infected or rupture, causing severe pain, blood loss and abdominal infection.

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