Walled-off pancreatic necrosis

Last revised by Yuranga Weerakkody on 17 May 2023

Walled-off pancreatic necrosis (WOPN) is a late complication of acute pancreatitis, although it can occur in chronic pancreatitis or as a result of pancreatic trauma. Differentiation of WOPN from pancreatic pseudocyst is essential because management differs. WOPN may need aggressive treatment to avoid complications. 

WOPN usually occurs four weeks after the episode of acute pancreatitis. Before this time, it is referred to as an acute necrotic collection (ANC).

The following are the latest terms according to the updated Atlanta classification to describe fluid collections associated with acute pancreatitis 10,11:

The walled-off collection may cause mass effect (e.g. against the biliary system, causing upstream dilatation). It may also become infected.

WOPN consists of necrosis and subsequent liquefaction of pancreatic and/or peripancreatic tissue. It may be intrapancreatic or parapancreatic.

A history of pancreatitis is necessary to exclude a complex cystic neoplasm. One should remember that an obstructing adenocarcinoma can cause pancreatitis, and if this is a concern, follow-up imaging (3-6 months) after the resolution of pancreatitis would be useful to exclude a mass.

  • cystic lesion within or around the pancreas with an area of heterogeneous attenuation non-enhancing (necrotic) tissue, surrounded by a wall 3
  • remember to look for other sequelae of pancreatitis (e.g. pseudoaneurysm)

MRI is superior to CT in differentiating WOPN from pseudocyst, given its ability to depict the internal necrotic debris that favors the WOPN.

The mortality rate with WOPN is high but less than infected pancreatic necrosis. Management depends on the patient's symptoms and the location of the WOPN. Since 40% of walled-off pancreatic fluid collections (including pseudocysts) resolve spontaneously 4, and ~10% of patients develop complications, conservative treatment may appropriate in some asymptomatic patients 5.

Symptomatic patients should have WOPNs drained. Percutaneous catheter drainage and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) drainage (+/- necrosectomy) have been used to treat the walled-off necrosis. These techniques are replacing surgical drainage 1,2.

Because of the necrotic debris, WOPN usually requires a wide-bore drainage catheter as compared to the small caliber catheters that can be used to drain a pseudocyst 3.

The term "walled-off pancreatic necrosis" was used by Connor et al. in 2005 2.

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