A healthy pancreas and biliary tract are necessary for good digestion. Pancreatic and biliary tract problems can lead to severe symptoms, so getting prompt, accurate diagnosis and treatment is critical. The nationally recognized experts at Cedars-Sinai are dedicated to evaluating and treating even the most complex pancreatic and biliary conditions, and other gastrointestinal diseases, through patient-centered care, extensive expert knowledge and application of the most advanced technologies.
Understanding Pancreatic & Biliary Conditions
The pancreas is a solid organ located right behind the stomach. It contains two cells that play key roles in how you digest food and control metabolism in your body. One type of cell makes enzymes that break down proteins, fats and carbohydrates so you can get nutrition from what you eat. The other makes hormones, primarily insulin, which controls how your body stores and uses sugar.
The biliary tract includes the organs and ducts that make, store and deliver bile—a thick fluid that helps your body expose fats and remove waste product into the small intestine for better digestion. The gallbladder collects and stores bile as the liver makes it and then releases the stored bile during a meal to promote digestion.
Pancreatic and biliary conditions typically impact your liver, pancreas, gallbladder and/or the bile ducts. These conditions are often associated with long-term damage to the organ itself or surrounding tissue. Sometimes these problems are genetically predetermined. When in trouble, these organs can cause severe symptoms, but they also can silently cause issues.
Pancreatic and biliary symptoms can include, but are not limited to:
- Abdominal swelling
- Dark-colored urine
- Diarrhea, especially with fat droplets in the stools
- Gas, hiccups and belching
- Itchy skin
- Jaundice—a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes
- Loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss
- Pain throughout the upper abdomen that often travels to the mid-back region
- Pale-colored or bloody stool
If you are experiencing one of these symptoms, call your doctor immediately.
How Pancreatic, Biliary and Related Diseases Are Diagnosed
Diagnostic services at Cedars-Sinai specialize in detecting the full spectrum of diseases of the pancreas and bile ducts. A diagnosis usually begins with the doctor talking to you about your medical history and doing a physical exam. Your doctor will also ask questions about your personal and family history to determine if you're at higher risk for a specific disorder. Today's advanced diagnostic tools are more accurate and less invasive than ever before, and commonly include:
- Blood tests to examine levels of pancreatic enzymes or liver function
- Ultrasound to look at your gallbladder, if your doctor suspects gallstones or gallbladder inflammation
- Computed tomography (CT) to show inflammation and any scarring in soft tissues or swollen bile ducts
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to show inflammation of the pancreas, abdomen or pelvis
- Upper endoscopy to look inside the stomach and gastrointestinal tract
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) to examine the hollow channels within the biliary tract and pancreas, where stones or blockage can be seen
The Pancreatic and Biliary Disease team at Cedars-Sinai provides expert care for a wide range of conditions. If you have questions, need special care or have any other concerns, contact the Cedars-Sinai Pancreatic and Biliary Disease Program.
If you are having any kind of pancreatic and biliary/GI procedure, knowing how to prepare for your procedure and what to expect can help your doctor better detect or treat your condition and lessen your overall anxiety.
Learn more about minimally and noninvasive diagnostic and interventional techniques, and the steps you need to take before your specific procedure at Cedars-Sinai.