The pancreas is an organ in your body located behind your stomach and small intestine. One of its functions is to make enzymes that aid in the digestion of food in your intestines. These enzymes, in the form of a digestive juice, are released from the pancreas through the pancreatic duct into the top of the small intestine.
Pancreas divisum is the most common anomaly of the pancreas that is present from birth. Normally, all human embryos start life with the pancreas in two parts, each with its own duct — the ventral duct and the dorsal duct. During development, these two parts usually fuse, and the two ducts also fuse to make one duct. In pancreas divisum, the ducts have failed to fuse during development, leaving the pancreas with two separate ducts.
It isn’t known what causes the failure of pancreatic ducts to fuse in utero. What researchers do know is that it occurs in approximately 10 percent of embryos.
Most people who are born with pancreas divisum will never experience any symptoms. The condition is sometimes only found during autopsy.
A very small group of people with the condition do develop symptoms, and these can include:
- abdominal pain
- sudden (acute) or long-term (chronic) pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas
Most people with pancreas divisum have no symptoms, so no treatment is required.
For the people with this condition who do have symptoms, treatment options may be challenging. A surgeon may recommend a Puestow procedure or sphincterotomy. They can cut the minor papilla, an opening between the small intestine and one of the ducts, to enlarge the opening and allow digestive juices to flow more normally. During surgery, they may insert a stent into the duct to ensure that it doesn’t close and cause a blockage.
As with any surgery, there are risks. You’ll want to discuss these with your doctor.
Some research has shown that surgical removal of the gallbladder may also help certain individuals with pancreas divisum.
In cases where pancreas divisum leads to pancreatitis, there are several things you can change about your diet that may decrease the risk of flare-ups.
Reduce the amount of fat you consume
The total amount of fat that individuals require is dependent on their height and weight. But on average, it’s suggested that you limit total fat intake to no more than 30 percent of your total daily calories. An average person eating 2,000 calories a day should have no more than 65 grams of fat daily. It’s best to limit saturated fat to around 20 grams each day.
Lean proteins like boneless, skinless chicken breast, turkey, and fish are naturally low in saturated fat. So incorporating them into your diet is an easy way to reduce the fat content in your meals. However, certain individuals experience flare-ups with high-protein diets. Talk to your doctor about your protein intake before you add more to your diet.
Using a cooking spray instead of butter will also help to cut fat from your diet.
Eliminate alcohol and always be well-hydrated
If you have any kind of pancreatic disease, you should never drink alcohol. Alcohol causes direct injury and inflammation to the pancreas. Dehydration can also cause a flare-up in the pancreas, so always make sure you’re well-hydrated. Carry water or some other nonalcoholic liquid with you all the time. Sports drinks are another good way to keep from becoming dehydrated.
Try temporary fasts
Sometimes it may necessary to give an inflamed pancreas a rest by limiting your food intake. If you are having a flare-up, your doctor may recommend that you stick to a clear liquid diet for a day or two. Foods you can have on this diet include:
- chicken or beef broth
- sports drinks
- apple and white grape juice
This diet isn’t nutritionally complete, so you shouldn’t maintain it for long. You should begin to increase your food intake, with small portions, as soon as you feel you’re able to tolerate it. Talk to your doctor to develop the best diet plan for you.
Prevention and risk factors
The main risk that comes with pancreas divisum is that it may lead to pancreatitis. By making changes to your diet, you may be able to decrease the likelihood of pancreatitis developing. If pancreatitis does occur, the diet changes discussed previously may help to alleviate its symptoms.
Outlook and complications
In the majority of cases, pancreas divisum will have absolutely no effect on your life, and it’s probable that you may never even know you have it.
If you do experience symptoms and are diagnosed with the condition, it’s important that you make changes to your diet, eliminate alcohol, and ensure that you’re well-hydrated at all times. If you follow these important steps, you may avoid the complication of pancreatitis.
If you’re symptoms are severe, you should talk to your doctor or a specialist about treatment options, as many treatments have their own risks.