Annular Pancreas

What is annular pancreas?

Annular pancreas is the most common birth defect seen in the pancreas. The pancreas is an organ that plays an important part in your digestive process. The term annular pancreas means that a ring of extra pancreatic tissue covers the first part of your small intestine (duodenum). It goes all the way up to your pancreas. Your pancreas can still function, but the extra tissue can cause a number of symptoms. It can also disrupt your digestive process and other bodily functions.

What causes annular pancreas?

Annular pancreas is a birth defect. The cause is not known.

What are the symptoms of annular pancreas?

Annular pancreas is a rare condition. The exact number of people born with it is unknown. Healthcare providers may diagnose the defect in babies, even before birth. Sometimes, however, it is not recognized and diagnosed until after symptoms start. This could be in childhood or even adulthood. In infants and young children, it can cause intolerance to food, vomiting, and abdominal distention. In older children and adults, it can cause similar symptoms and chronic abdominal pain. Most people with annular pancreas don’t have any symptoms.

Annular pancreas is linked with Down syndrome. About one-fourth of people with this condition also have Down syndrome.

How is annular pancreas diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will perform an exam and get your medical history. Other tests may be done to evaluate whether you have annular pancreas.

An ultrasound may identify the presence of annular pancreas even before a baby is born. If the diagnosis is made later in life, it is often found through an upper GI series X-ray, CT scan, or MRI. These diagnostic scans often identify the tissue that causes a narrowing of the duodenum and air pockets typical of a blockage.

How is annular pancreas treated?

Your healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment for you based on:

  • Your age
  • Your overall health and past health
  • How sick you are
  • How well you can handle specific medicines, procedures, or therapies
  • How long the condition is expected to last
  • Your opinion or preference

If the condition causes problems, surgery is the typical treatment. The surgery involves bypassing the blockage that the annular pancreas causes. The annular pancreas itself is rarely removed. This would risk injuring the pancreatic tube and causing a leak of fluids within it. A surgeon performs the surgery through an incision in the upper part of the belly.

What are the complications of annular pancreas?

Complications related to annular pancreas include obstruction of the duodenum and poor liver function. It can result in pancreatitis, small intestine ulcers, intestinal blockage, and jaundice. In some cases, an abnormal connection between the windpipe and the esophagus can also be associated with an annular pancreas. In rare instances, pancreatic cancer is a complication related to annular pancreas. 

When should I call my health care provider?

If you have any prolonged abdominal pain or trouble swallowing, an annular pancreas is a possible cause. This is particularly true if you also have Down syndrome.

Key points

  • Annular pancreas is the most common defect seen in the pancreas.
  • Annular pancreas is caused by a birth defect. The developing pancreas does not form properly.
  • The condition is caused by a ring of extra pancreatic tissue that covers the first part of your small intestine.
  • If annular pancreas causes symptoms, such as blockage of intestines, abdominal pain, or food intolerance, it can be treated with surgery.
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