Whipple Procedure: Purpose, Complications and Recovery Time

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Patients, and their families, who are about to undergo the Whipple procedure often want to know what is a Whipple procedure all about. The Whipple procedure, also referred to as pancreatoduodenectomy, is a surgical operation for the treatment of cancerous tumors on the pancreas. It is also done for malignant tumors on the common bile duct, and the first part of the small intestine, the duodenum, which are located near the pancreas.

It was first attempted in 1935 by Dr. Allen Whipple, an American born doctor who later became a surgeon at the New York Presbyterian Hospital. The procedure was developed when he discovered the presence of carcinoma on the pancreas in one of his patient, forcing Dr. Whipple to perform a surgical procedure that is now known as Whipple procedure.

Whipple Procedure

The head of the pancreas shares similar arterial blood supply with the duodenum, thus removal of both organs is often needed in order not to compromise the flow of the blood to the duodenum.

During the procedure, the pancreas head is removed. Other organs also removed are the gall bladder, some portions of the duodenum, stomach and common bile duct. These parts are then reconnected to ensure that the digestive function resumes to normal after the recovery period. This procedure is quite delicate since the specialist has to make sure that the reduced pancreas is attached neatly to the intestine. The delicate nature of the procedure often makes it imperative for those in need of Whipple surgery to go to major hospitals in order to get the best treatment and care.


One of the common complications of Whipple procedure is the leakage of pancreatic juice. This however, usually stops as patients recover. Other complications is weight loss and diabetes. Weight loss is often expected as they cannot resume to their normal eating habits immediately. Because the pancreas contains the cells which produces insulin, the procedure may cause diabetes in some patients.


People interested in learning what is a Whipple procedure are usually interested in the recovery period after the surgery. Most patients stay in the hospital for at least a week after the surgery. Stomach discomfort and post-procedure pain are some expected effects that usually last for several days.

Many patients may find it difficult to resume their normal eating habits after the procedure. They are often advised to take enzymes for supplements and to eat small meals each day. This will help them to gradually reestablish normal eating patterns in the long run.

The success of the procedure is usually high for the treatment of pancreatitis, although the success is not yet established in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. A general surgeon and oncologist may help determine the appropriateness and effectiveness of this treatment option.


Mayo Clinic: Pancreatic Cancer

WiseGEEK: What is a Whipple Procedure?

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