On This Page:
- What Is the Celiac Plexus?
- What Is a Celiac Plexus Block?
- Why Use a Celiac Plexus Block?
- What Happens During the Procedure?
- How Long Does It Take?
- What Happens After the Procedure?
- What Are Possible Side Effects?
What Is the Celiac Plexus?
The celiac plexus is a nerve bundle in the upper abdomen. It is located behind the pancreas and near the aorta.
The celiac nerves connect the pancreas, gall bladder, intestines, liver and stomach to the brain and spinal cord. Pancreatic tumors often cause pain by pressing on and injuring these nerves.
What Is a Celiac Plexus Block?
A celiac plexus block is a procedure that damages the celiac nerves so they cannot send pain messages to the brain. It is sometimes used to treat abdominal pain in pancreatic cancer patients.
Why Use a Celiac Plexus Block?
Patients with advanced pancreatic cancer often have intense abdominal pain. They often use strong pain medicines, such as opioids, to control this pain.
Even patients who use pain medicines may still have breakthrough pain, or periods of intense pain. Additionally, pain medicines can also cause uncomfortable side effects, like constipation.
A celiac plexus block can help a patient avoid breakthrough pain. The block usually does not stop all the pain. But it may lessen the need to use pain medicines.
What Happens During the Procedure?
A celiac plexus block can happen three ways:
In all cases, a doctor injects a painkiller to numb the celiac nerves. Then they inject a substance to damage the nerves.
For more information about each of these approaches, contact PanCAN Patient Services.
How Long Does It Take?
The celiac plexus block procedure takes 30-60 minutes. The total procedure time depends on how the doctor accesses the celiac nerves.
What Happens After the Procedure?
Most patients feel some, although not total, relief from pain after the procedure. Since the nerve block typically lasts three to six months, patients may need to repeat the procedure.
What Are Possible Side Effects?
Complications related to a celiac plexus block can be serious. The procedure is not recommended for patients taking blood-thinning medicines or who have an infection or bowel blockage.
Common side effects include:
- Low blood pressure (hypotension)
- Pain, tenderness, swelling or bruising around the injection
- Muscle spasm at the area of injection
Though less common, the following are also possible side effects:
- Delayed gastric emptying
- Damage to kidneys
- Seizure or lowered blood supply to the spinal cord
- Allergic reaction to the dye or medicines injected
- Accidental puncture of an organ
- Infection (increased redness or swelling) at the injection or IV site
Talk with your healthcare team about the benefits and risks to decide if a celiac plexus block is the right choice to control your pain.
Managing Side Effects
A celiac plexus block is one way to control the pancreatic cancer symptom of abdominal pain.
Seeing healthcare professionals who focus on symptom management and supportive care improves outcomes and is critical for your quality of life. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network strongly recommends that symptom management and supportive care should be provided early in your diagnosis as well as during and after treatment.
We’re Here to Help
For free, in-depth and personalized information about symptom and side effect management, including celiac plexus blocks, contact PanCAN Patient Services.
Information reviewed by PanCAN’s Scientific and Medical Advisory Board, who are experts in the field from such institutions as University of Pennsylvania, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Virginia Mason Medical Center and more.