What Is a Celiac Plexus Block?

A celiac plexus block, sometimes referred to as a celiac nerve block, is a procedure used in the treatment of abdominal pain that has been unresponsive to other treatments.

Learn about the procedure, why it's used, possible risks, how to prepare, and the recovery time.

Patient in hospital gown being reassured by doctor

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What Is the Celiac Plexus?

The celiac plexus is a cluster of nerves located in the upper abdomen. The celiac plexus is located behind the pancreas, near the body's largest blood vessel, the aorta.

As part of the nervous system, the nerves in the celiac plexus send messages to the brain from the digestive organs in the body.

These organs include:

In certain medical conditions, such as pancreatic cancer, a celiac plexus block may be used to manage severe abdominal pain that is not responsive to other treatments, including opioids.

A celiac plexus block is a medical procedure that uses an injection of medication to stop the celiac plexus nerves from sending pain signals to these organs. This in turn can help reduce pain.

Purpose of a Celiac Plexus Block

A celiac plexus block may be used in people who have severe recurrent abdominal pain that is unresponsive to other treatments.

It may be used to treat pain in a variety of conditions including:

Possible Risks

As in any medical procedure, a celiac plexus block carries some risk. Complications with a celiac plexus block are uncommon, but may include:

  • Kidney damage
  • Damage to other organs
  • Nerve damage
  • Decreased flow of blood to the spinal cord
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis from spinal cord injury
  • Gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying)
  • Allergic reaction (either to the anesthesia or contrast dye)
  • A collapsed lung

How to Prepare For a Celiac Plexus Block

A celiac plexus block is generally an outpatient medical procedure that is performed in a doctor's office or hospital.

In the lead-up to your procedure, your healthcare provider will take a full health history and ask you to follow some instructions to prepare. These steps may include the following.

Review Medication Changes

It is possible you will be asked to stop taking certain medications before your procedure. If you're unsure about what medications you can and can't take in the lead-up to your procedure, speak with your healthcare provider.

Some medications that you may be asked to stop taking in the days leading up to your celiac plexus block may include blood thinners, pain medications, and diuretics (water pills). However, do not stop taking any medications unless your healthcare provider tells you to.

If you take medication for diabetes, your healthcare provider will tell you what you should do the day of your procedure. It's possible you will need to change your insulin dose.

Get a Blood Test

In the days before your procedure, your healthcare provider will arrange for you to have a blood test to check your blood platelet count. These are cells that help your blood clot.

Arrange for someone to pick you up

Before your procedure, you must arrange for a responsible adult to collect you and take you home once the procedure is over.

It is best to arrange this ahead of time and not on the day of your procedure.

What to Expect the Day of the Procedure

On the day of your celiac plexus block, it's important to closely follow the directions given to you by your healthcare provider.

You may be asked to abstain from eating and drinking after midnight on the night before your procedure. Be sure to follow any fasting instructions you're given.

The morning of your procedure, take only the medications your healthcare provider has approved of, and leave all valuables at home.

There are certain items you shouldn't wear to your procedure. These include:

  • Creams
  • Petroleum jelly (vaseline)
  • Makeup
  • Jewelry, including piercings
  • Contacts (if you don't have glasses, bring a case for your contacts)

During the Procedure

When you're ready for your celiac plexus block a number of things will happen:

  1. Your healthcare provider will speak with you prior to the procedure, and you will have the chance to ask questions.
  2. The nurses and doctors will give you a consent form to sign, indicating you understand why you are having the procedure.
  3. You will be brought into the procedure room and will be asked to lie on the exam table on your stomach with a pillow under your hips.
  4. You will be given an IV catheter in your hand or arm.
  5. Anesthesia will be given to you via the IV in your arm. Depending on where you are having the procedure, you will either be sedated and relaxed or put to sleep.
  6. During the procedure, your back will be cleaned with antiseptic.
  7. Using X-rays to see the location of the celiac plexus, your healthcare provider will then guide a needle into the area to nerve grouping and inject medication to the celiac plexus to block the nerves from sending pain signals to the brain.
  8. Your healthcare provider will then remove the needle and place a bandage over the area. The procedure generally takes about 90 minutes.

Recovery

Immediately following the procedure, you may experience a number of symptoms. These include:

  • Dizziness
  • A full feeling in the abdomen
  • Warmth in the abdomen
  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion

You will be monitored in the recovery room before being discharged to go home.

At Home

Once at home, you may continue to experience some symptoms for a few days. These include:

  • Soreness in the back where the needle was placed
  • Diarrhea

You can take pain medication following your procedure under the direction of your healthcare provider. You can also remove the band-aid from your back either the night of or the morning after your procedure.

The day after your procedure, you can have a shower. However, following the procedure, you should not:

  • Drive for 24 hours after the procedure
  • Use heavy machinery for 24 hours following your procedure
  • Drink alcohol for 24 hours after your procedure

Some people will experience pain relief quickly and the relief will last for years. Other people may only have relief from pain for a few weeks. The results vary among people.

Summary

A celiac plexus block is a form of pain treatment that may be used in those with severe, recurrent abdominal pain that has been unresponsive to other treatments. It may be especially helpful for those with pancreatic cancer or other underlying conditions. The procedure carries some risks, though complications are uncommon. How long pain relief lasts will vary among patients.

A Word From Verywell

Learning about medical procedures—including something like the celiac plexus block—can be daunting, but your healthcare team is there to answer any questions you may have. If you have concerns about an upcoming medical procedure, or any aspect of your health, reach out to your healthcare provider, family and friends for support.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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