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Pancreas divisum

Last revised by Dr Yair Glick on 12 Sep 2021

Pancreas divisum represents a variation in pancreatic ductal anatomy that can be associated with abdominal pain and idiopathic pancreatitis. It is characterized, in the majority of cases, by the dorsal pancreatic duct (i.e. main pancreatic and Santorini ducts) directly entering the minor papilla with no communication with the ventral duct (a.k.a duct of Wirsung) and thus, the major papilla.

The term dominant dorsal duct syndrome is sometimes used in the literature to reflect that the main pancreatic duct draining via the minor papilla does not always have the classical pancreas divisum anatomy 8 (see figures 1 and 2a)

The classic description of pancreas divisum refers to the complete form but incomplete and reverse forms have also been described (figures 2b and 2c).

It is the most common variation of pancreatic duct formation and may be present in ~5% (range 4-10%) of the general population 3,4,6. Its MRCP prevalence is ~9% with autopsy prevalence up to 14% 7.

Most people with a pancreas divisum are asymptomatic, but this variant is found more frequently in patients with chronic abdominal pain and idiopathic pancreatitis than in the general population 4. Of those with idiopathic recurrent pancreatitis, 12-26% of patients are thought to have pancreas divisum compared with 3-9% of the general population 13.

It results from failure of fusion of dorsal and ventral pancreatic anlages. As a result, the dorsal pancreatic duct drains most of the pancreatic glandular parenchyma via the minor papilla. Although controversial, this variant is considered a cause of pancreatitis. 

Pancreatic divisum can result in a santorinicele, which is a cystic dilatation of the distal dorsal duct (duct of Santorini), immediately proximal to the minor papilla.  

Three subtypes are known:

  • type 1 (classic): no connection at all; occurs in the majority of cases; 70% 
  • type 2 (absent ventral duct): minor papilla drains all of pancreas while major papilla drains bile duct; 20-25% 
  • type 3 (functional): filamentous or inadequate connection between dorsal and ventral ducts; 5-6%

A reverse pancreas divisum has been described where the main duct fuses with the ventral duct and a small residual dorsal duct does not communicate with the main duct and drains separately into the minor papilla 9,10.

This was the traditional method of diagnosis where a pancreas divisum was suspected when there was no contrast extending towards the pancreatic tail when administered through the ampulla of Vater.

MRI is the current gold standard method of evaluation. The key imaging features:

  • the dorsal pancreatic duct is in direct continuity with the duct of Santorini, which drains into the minor papilla
  • the ventral duct (duct of Wirsung), which does not communicate with the dorsal duct but joins with the distal bile duct to enter the major papilla

Some authors claim increased sensitivity of secretin MRCP (S-MRCP) in detection of pancreas divisum 2.

A diagnosis of pancreas divisum does not routinely warrant treatment, especially when incidental and asymptomatic. In symptomatic patients (e.g. recurrent pancreatitis), management options may include 6:

  • conservative, non-operative treatment +/- pancreatic enzyme supplements
  • minor papillotomy
  • minor papilla stenting
  • balloon dilatation of any associated stricture

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Cases and figures

  • Figure 1: pancreas divisum
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  • Case 1
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  • Figure 2a: complete pancreas divisum
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  • Case 2
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  • Figure 2b: incomplete pancreas divisum
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  • Case 3
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  • Figure 2c: reverse pancreas divisum
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  • Case 4
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  • Case 5
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  • Case 6
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  • Case 7: coronal source image from 3D MRCP
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  • Case 8
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  • Case 9: with cholelithiasis
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  • Case 10
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  • Case 11
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  • Case 12
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  • Case 13: with Santorinicele
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  • Case 14: complicated by acute pancreatitis
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  • Case 15
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  • Case 16
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  • Case 17: MPD with signs of chronic pancreatitis
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