The advantage of using pancreatic stents is that they can alleviate pain in those with certain chronic forms of pancreatitis, while drawbacks may include complications like infection. Serious side effects or complications are relatively rare, although they do occur and certain factors may increase a patient's risk of having certain complications. All patients should be given the pros and cons of having pancreatic stents put in place before the procedure is performed so that they can make an informed decision.
Pancreatic stents are plastic devices which are generally placed inside of one or more of the pancreatic ducts in order to allow bile and other fluids to move out more easily. They are commonly used in the treatment of chronic pancreatitis, but also used in treating pancreatic cancer. Pancreatitis is a condition which causes inflammation of the pancreas, as well as severe pain. It is caused by digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas begin activating while till inside the organ itself, thus causing tissue damage and swelling.
The primary benefit to using pancreatic stents is that they help relieve pressure and inflammation, and thereby reduce pain, in patients who have long-term pancreatitis and other illnesses. This allows patients to eat a wider variety of foods and digest them more easily without fear of pain or discomfort. It also may prevent further damage to the pancreas since enzymes can be drained away from the organ where they cannot cause damage. The enzymes are naturally occurring and are needed to aid in digestion in the stomach.
Use of stents is also less invasive than other treatments since they do not typically require surgery. The stents are put in place using long tubes which are inserted through the patient's mouth. These tubes are guided by an ultrasound or other equipment. This allows for less pain during treatment when compared with surgery and less chance of complications.
Some doctors do not advocate for the use of pancreatic stents because the procedure is not as well studied as some others. This means that long-term complications or issues may not yet be recognized. Most studies which have been done so far indicate a low level of serious side effects, however, as well as excellent rates of pain relief. Occasionally, stents may become blocked and need to be replaced, leading to additional medical costs, although this is not a major concern for most patients.
Occasionally complications may occur during stent placement or after. These can include a failure of the stents to relieve pain or the stents can sometimes shift out of place. Occasionally infection may occur, although this is unlikely and poses a much smaller risk than with traditional surgery.