Is a Pancreatic Pseudocyst?
A pancreatic pseudocyst is a collection of tissue and fluids that
forms on an organ located behind your stomach called the pancreas. It’s usually
the result of a hard blow to your abdomen or pancreatitis, which is an
inflammation of the pancreas.
“Pseudo” means false. A pseudocyst looks like a cyst but is made
from different kinds of tissue than a true cyst. A true cyst is more likely to
be cancerous than a pseudocyst.
A pancreatic pseudocyst isn’t usually dangerous unless it
ruptures. A ruptured pancreatic
pseudocyst is a life-threatening condition. See your doctor
immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:
- high, persistent fever
- severe pain in your upper stomach area, with
pain radiating to your back
- unexplained fainting
- vomiting blood
- weak, rapid heartbeat
You should pay even closer attention to these symptoms if you or
anyone in your family has had pancreatitis.
Causes a Pancreatic Pseudocyst?
Pancreatic pseudocysts most often follow a bout of pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis is a serious and painful condition. Pancreatic enzymes, which help
you digest fats and sugars, overreact and begin to digest the tissues of the
pancreas itself. This can cause swelling, bleeding, and damage to the tissues
and blood vessels in the pancreas. Cysts typically form when the ducts that
carry pancreatic juices to the intestine become blocked.
Pancreatitis can be either acute or chronic. Acute pancreatitis starts
suddenly, and it can go away with or without treatment. Chronic pancreatitis
While pancreatitis may be a complication of surgery or due to
certain autoimmune disorders, alcoholism is the most common cause of both acute
and chronic pancreatitis. Additionally, alcoholism can raise the level of
certain fats, or triglycerides, in your bloodstream. Your pancreas helps your
body digest fats, but having too much fat to process can damage it.
Pancreatitis can also be due to gallstones. These are pebble-like
deposits that develop in the gallbladder, a small organ located near the
pancreas that stores bile produced in the liver. Gallstones may be very small,
or they can grow as large as a golf ball. In some cases, they may block the
ducts that drain the pancreas, causing pancreatitis to develop.
Are the Symptoms of a Pancreatic Pseudocyst?
You can have a pancreatic pseudocyst with no symptoms at all.
Sometimes, they even go away on their own. According to the Mayo
Clinic, doctors accidentally discover many pancreatic pseudocysts when performing
a CT or MRI scan to diagnose a different condition.
However, you should also watch for the following symptoms,
especially if you’ve recently had pancreatitis or a blow to the torso:
- nausea and vomiting
- pain in the area of your upper stomach,
sometimes radiating to your back
- a lump you can feel in the area of your upper
- difficulty eating and digesting food
These symptoms can also indicate other conditions, including
pancreatic cysts or cancerous tumors. Make sure to tell your doctor about all of
A ruptured cyst may present different symptoms, such as:
- vomiting blood
- weak and rapid heartbeat
- severe abdominal pain
- decreased consciousness
If you experience any of these symptoms, seek emergency medical
attention or call 911 immediately. A ruptured cyst can cause massive
bleeding and infection in the abdomen, and it could be fatal.
Is a Pancreatic Pseudocyst Diagnosed?
If your doctor thinks you may have a pancreatic pseudocyst, they’ll
order imaging tests to get a better look at the structure of your pancreas and
to gather more detailed information about the cyst.
Your doctor may also order an endoscopic ultrasound. This procedure uses high-powered sound
waves to create an image of the abdomen and organs. Your doctor will then
insert a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera attached to it into your
mouth and down into the upper part of the small intestine. This instrument is
called an endoscope. This procedure allows your doctor to gather a small amount
of fluid from the cyst to determine if the mass is cancerous.
Your doctor may also ask you:
- if you have a family history of pancreatitis
- how much alcohol you drink
- if you’ve recently been in a car crash
- if you have gallstones
Are the Treatments for a Pancreatic Pseudocyst?
If your doctor determines that you have a pseudocyst but you
don’t have any symptoms, they may suggest you wait to see if the cyst goes away
on its own. Regular imaging tests can monitor the growth or shrinking of the
When a pseudocyst compresses your other organs, your doctor will
need to drain it to reduce its size. It also needs draining if it grows so
large that it could rupture. Drainage requires surgery under general
anesthesia, meaning that you’ll be in a pain-free sleep during the procedure.
Surgery involves making a very small incision to drain the
pseudocyst with a needle guided by ultrasound or an endoscopic camera.
Alternatively, your doctor might make a larger incision to view the pseudocyst
Your doctor will drain or suction out the contents of the
pseudocyst. They’ll send a sample of the contents to a lab to test for
infections and signs of cancer. You’ll receive antibiotics even if you don’t
have an infection to make sure one doesn’t develop.
Can I Do to Prevent a Pancreatic Pseudocyst?
Pancreatitis is the most common cause of pseudocysts, so
preventing pancreatitis is the best way to prevent cysts from forming. If you
drink alcohol regularly or you’re an alcoholic, consider stopping or seeking
out treatment for addiction, especially if you have a family history of
alcoholism or pancreatitis.
A diet low in carbohydrates and cholesterol and consisting of
fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, and lean protein, can lower your triglycerides
and help prevent the development of pseudocysts.
Is the Long-Term Outlook?
The outlook for someone who has a pseudocyst is usually good if there’s
no chance of rupture. Surgery to drain pseudocysts has a high recovery rate.