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Non-penetrating Injuries To The Pancreas

What are non-penetrating injuries to the pancreas?

Non-penetrating injuries are also called blunt injuries. Blunt injuries are those that result from a direct blow to the abdomen (stomach) without an open wound. Blunt injuries to the pancreas may include a tear, cut, or bruise to the organ. These injuries may lead to internal bleeding due to the organ rupturing (bursting) or blood vessel problems. With care and treatment, your pancreas may heal over time, and serious problems may be prevented.

The pancreas is an organ behind the stomach that makes enzymes that help you digest food. Injuries to the pancreas often occur along with injuries to other organs in the abdomen.

What causes blunt injuries to the pancreas?

A direct force or blow to the upper middle part of the abdomen may cause injuries to the pancreas. This results in the pancreas being squeezed between the spine (back bones) and the abdominal wall. A blunt injury may happen with any of the following:

  • Car accidents.
  • Direct blows to the abdomen, such as those that occur while playing sports.
  • Heavy objects falling on the abdomen.
  • A sudden stop or decrease in speed of a very fast moving vehicle.

What are the signs and symptoms of blunt injuries to the pancreas?

  • Abdominal pain that may be widespread or in the upper middle part of the abdomen. Your abdomen may also be tender and hard.
  • Bruising, swelling, or scratches over the injured area.
  • Fever, nausea (upset stomach), or vomiting (throwing up).
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Signs of shock, including a fast pulse (heartbeat), low blood pressure, and pale, sweaty skin.

How are blunt injuries to the pancreas diagnosed?

Many blunt injuries are not diagnosed right away, but are found after tests are done or you start to show symptoms. Your caregiver will do a complete check-up of your body to look for problems or signs of injury. Certain tests use a special dye to help organs and structures show up better. Tell caregivers if you are allergic to shellfish (lobster, crab, or shrimp), as you may also be allergic to this dye. One or more of the following tests may be done:

  • Blood tests: You may need blood taken to give caregivers information about how your body is working. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.
  • Imaging tests:
    • Computerized tomography scan: This is also called CT scan. A special X-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of different areas of your abdomen. It may be used to look at your pancreas, other organs, and blood vessels. Before taking the pictures, you may be given dye through an IV in your vein.
    • Endoscopic retrograde pancreatography: This is also called ERP. This test is done during an endoscopy to find injuries to the pancreas, or other problems. Dye is put into the endoscopy tube.
    • Magnetic resonance imaging scan: This test is also called an MRI. An MRI uses magnetic waves to take pictures of your abdomen. During an MRI, pictures are taken of your bones, abdominal organs, or blood vessels. You will need to lie still during an MRI. Never enter the MRI room with an oxygen tank, watch, or any other metal objects. This may cause serious injury.
    • Abdominal ultrasound: This test is done so caregivers can see the tissues and organs of your abdomen. Gel will be put on your abdomen and a small sensor will be moved across your abdomen. The sensor uses sound waves to send pictures of your abdomen to a TV-like screen.
    • X-rays: X-rays of your abdomen may be taken. These may help caregivers look for broken bones or other injuries inside your body.
  • Laparotomy: This is surgery to open your abdomen. Caregivers may do a laparotomy to look closely at organs and lymph nodes inside your abdomen. Tissue samples may be taken and sent to a lab for tests.

How are blunt injuries to the pancreas treated?

Treatment for blunt injuries to the pancreas will depend on many factors. These include how severe the injury is, what part of the pancreas was damaged, and whether other organs are affected. Caregivers may do surgery to treat problems that are more serious first, such as bleeding inside your abdomen. You may need to have more than one surgery. You may have any of the following:

  • Watchful waiting: If your condition is stable and your injury is mild, watchful waiting may be all that is needed. Your caregiver will watch you closely for a period of time until your pancreas heals on its own. You may need to rest in bed and limit your activity.
  • Drainage: Draining may be done to clean out any old blood or fluid from the pancreas in your abdomen. This may be done by putting thin rubber tubes into your abdomen. The tube may be attached to a suction device.
  • Laparoscopic surgical repair: Caregivers may use sutures (threads) to repair an injured organ. Sometimes, a stent (tube) may be placed to treat a damaged duct (tunnel).
  • Open surgery: Caregivers may do surgery to take out part of the pancreas if it is badly injured. The remaining portion of the pancreas may then be connected and sutured (sewn) to other organs. Bleeding from blood vessels may be stopped by applying heat or closing them with sutures.

Where can I find more information?

Having a blunt injury to the pancreas may be hard. You and those close to you may feel scared, sad, or angry. These are normal feelings. Contact the following for more information:

  • American College of Surgeons
    633 N. Saint Clair St.
    Chicago , IL 606113211
    Phone: 1- 312 - 2025000
    Phone: 1- 800 - 6214111
    Web Address:

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

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