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Penetrating Injuries to the Pancreas

What are penetrating injuries to the pancreas?

Penetrating injuries are also called piercing injuries. These may be caused by anything that goes through the skin and into the body. Piercing injuries to the pancreas may cause a tear, cut, or bruise to the organ. They may also result in a severely damaged organ and internal bleeding. With treatment, such as surgery, 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. Piercing injuries to the pancreas often occur along with injuries to other organs in the abdomen (stomach).

What causes piercing injuries to the pancreas?

Piercing injuries to the pancreas are commonly caused by gunshot wounds. Stab wounds or objects that go through the skin and into the abdomen may also cause piercing injuries. These objects may include shrapnel, broken bones, and small fragments coming from a grenade. Traffic accidents can also be sources of penetrating injuries.

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

  • Abdominal pain and tenderness.
  • Bleeding, swelling, or bruising from the wound site.
  • Burned skin caused by a gun fired at close range.
  • Open wounds where the objects may have entered or exited.
  • Signs of shock including a fast pulse (heartbeat), low blood pressure, and pale skin.

How are piercing injuries to the pancreas diagnosed?

Your caregiver will do a complete check-up of your body to look for open wounds and 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 and pelvis. It may be used to look at your bones, organs, and blood vessels. Before taking the pictures, you may be given dye through an IV in your vein.
    • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography: This is also called ERCP. This test is done during an endoscopy to find injuries to the pancreas, or other problems. Dye is put into the endoscopy tube.
    • 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, other injuries, or the presence of a foreign body 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 piercing injuries to the pancreas treated?

Surgery is the main treatment for piercing injuries to the pancreas. Antibiotic medicine may be given before and after the surgery to prevent an infection. Caregivers may do surgery to clean and look for problems, such as bleeding, inside your abdomen. The type of surgery to be done will depend on how severe the injury is and whether other organs are affected. You may need to have more than one surgery. You may have any of the following:

  • Drainage: Draining will 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 connected to a suction machine.
  • Repair: Caregivers may use sutures (threads) to close a cut or repair an injured organ.
  • Excision: This may be done if the pancreas is badly injured. Caregivers may do surgery to take out part of the injured pancreas. The remaining portion of the pancreas may then be connected and sutured (sewn) to other organs.

Where can I find more information?

Having a piercing 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:

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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.

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