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S Afr J Surg. 2005 Aug;43(3):92-102.

The management of complex pancreatic injuries.

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Divisions of Surgery, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town.


Major injuries of the pancreas are uncommon, but may result in considerable morbidity and mortality because of the magnitude of associated vascular and duodenal injuries or underestimation of the extent of the pancreatic injury. Prognosis is influenced by the cause and complexity of the pancreatic injury, the amount of blood lost, duration of shock, speed of resuscitation and quality and nature of surgical intervention. Early mortality usually results from uncontrolled or massive bleeding due to associated vascular and adjacent organ injuries. Late mortality is a consequence of infection or multiple organ failure. Neglect of major pancreatic duct injury may lead to life-threatening complications including pseudocysts, fistulas, pancreatitis, sepsis and secondary haemorrhage. Careful operative assessment to determine the extent of gland damage and the likelihood of duct injury is usually sufficient to allow planning of further management. This strategy provides a simple approach to the management of pancreatic injuries regardless of the cause. Four situations are defined by the extent and site of injury: (i) minor lacerations, stabs or gunshot wounds of the superior or inferior border of the body or tail of the pancreas (i.e. remote from the main pancreatic duct), without visible duct involvement, are best managed by external drainage; (ii) major lacerations or gunshot or stab wounds in the body or tail with visible duct involvement or transection of more than half the width of the pancreas are treated by distal pancreatectomy; (iii) stab wounds, gunshot wounds and contusions of the head of the pancreas without devitalisation of pancreatic tissue are managed by external drainage, provided that any associated duodenal injury is amenable to simple repair; and (iv) non-reconstructable injuries with disruption of the ampullary-biliary-pancreatic union or major devitalising injuries of the pancreatic head and duodenum in stable patients are best treated by pancreatoduodenectomy. Internal drainage or complex defunctioning procedures are not useful in the emergency management of pancreatic injuries, and can be avoided without increasing morbidity. Unstable patients may require initial damage control before later definitive surgery. Successful treatment of complex injuries of the head of the pancreas depends largely on initial correct assessment and appropriate treatment. The management of these severe proximal pancreatic injuries remains one of the most difficult challenges in abdominal trauma surgery, and optimal results are most likely to be obtained by an experienced multidisciplinary team.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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