Sphincter of Oddi Dysfunction
What is sphincter of Oddi dysfunction?
The sphincter of Oddi is a muscular valve in your digestive tract. It helps move bile
and juices from your pancreas into your small intestine. When this valve doesn’t work
right, it’s called sphincter of Oddi dysfunction (SOD).
Bile is a digestive juice that your liver makes. Your gallbladder stores it. Then
it flows into the upper part of your small intestine to help you digest food. At the
same time, your pancreas makes juices that are important for digestion. Both bile
and your pancreatic juices flow to your small intestine through a common duct that
is opened and closed by the sphincter of Oddi.
In one type of SOD, the sphincter of Oddi goes into spasm. It clamps shut and can’t
relax. Other times it may be narrowed from past inflammation. Your digestive juices
back up into your pancreas and into the bile ducts of your liver. This causes intense
Another type of SOD happens when the sphincter of Oddi becomes stiff and narrow. This
prevents digestive juices from entering your small intestine.
What causes sphincter of Oddi dysfunction?
Experts aren’t sure why SOD happens. It is a rare condition.
Who is at risk for sphincter of Oddi dysfunction?
You’re most at risk for this condition if you’ve had your gallbladder removed. Other
risk factors for SOD are:
What are the symptoms of sphincter of Oddi dysfunction?
The main symptom of SOD is severe stomach pain that comes and goes. The symptoms can
feel similar to a gallbladder attack. You may have pain in your upper belly that seems
to move, or spread, into your right shoulder. You may also have chest pain that feels
like a heart attack. This pain is often very similar to gallbladder pain. But people
still have this pain after their gallbladder is removed.
Sometimes SOD causes pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is a severe swelling and irritation
of the pancreas. It may cause stomach pain around the belly button and pain in the
left side under the ribs. Symptoms that go along with the belly pain include:
Loss of appetite
How is sphincter of Oddi dysfunction diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider may think you have SOD if you have recurrent pancreatitis
or bouts of stomach pain after your gallbladder was taken out. Your provider may also
consider SOD if you have severe belly pain after recovering from a gastric bypass
Treatment for SOD does not help stomach pain that is not caused by SOD. So it is very
important to do testing to find out if you truly have the condition. These tests may
Blood tests. These are done to check for higher-than-normal liver or pancreatic enzymes.
Ultrasound. This imaging test may be done to look at the bile duct, liver, or pancreas.
Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP). This is an imaging study of the bile and pancreatic ducts.
Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). This test looks directly inside the duct system while getting X-ray images, taking
visual pictures, and measuring pressure.
Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS). This internal ultrasound is done during an upper GI (gastrointestinal) exam. It uses
a thin tube (endoscope) that is put into the mouth, down into the stomach, and into
the first part of the small intestine. This test gives very detailed images. It is
able to look for causes of pain such as chronic pancreatitis.
Hepatobiliary iminodiacetic acid (HIDA) scan. This is a special type of scan that looks at the drainage out of the biliary system
How is sphincter of Oddi dysfunction treated?
Treatment of SOD depends on the type you have. It also depends on how bad your symptoms
are. Your healthcare provider may advise:
Certain medicines. Calcium channel blockers and other medicines may ease symptoms. But they can have
Sphincterotomy. For this procedure, your sphincter of Oddi muscle is cut surgically. You may have
this done if tests show that your symptoms are due to a backup of digestive juices
into your liver or pancreas. And you are having symptoms often.
What are possible complications of sphincter of Oddi dysfunction?
The main complication of SOD is pancreatitis. This can be severe. It can occur from
the ERCP procedure or treatment done during the procedure. If you have surgery to
cut the sphincter, other possible complications are:
How do I manage sphincter of Oddi dysfunction?
If you have SOD or if you are recovering from sphincterotomy, follow all your healthcare
provider’s orders. Take all your medicines as directed. Tell your healthcare provider
about any other medicines you take, including over-the-counter medicines, supplements,
These tips may help you manage SOD:
Don’t drink alcohol.
Limit high-fat foods.
Keep your cholesterol under control.
Stay at a healthy weight.
Eat smaller meals more often.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Call your healthcare provider if you have severe stomach pain that is not going away
or keeps coming back. Also tell your healthcare provider if you have these symptoms,
especially after gallbladder surgery:
Loss of appetite
Key points about sphincter of Oddi dysfunction
The sphincter of Oddi is a muscular valve in your digestive tract. When it doesn’t
work right, it’s called sphincter of Oddi dysfunction (SOD).
The sphincter of Oddi helps move bile and juices from your pancreas into your small
You are more at risk for SOD if you have your gallbladder removed or have gastric
bypass weight-loss surgery.
The main symptom of SOD is severe stomach pain that comes and goes.
Blood tests, ultrasound, and other imaging tests can help diagnose this condition.
A sphincterotomy may help ease the symptoms of SOD.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also
know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that
Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.