Pancreatic Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide-Producing Tumor as a Rare Cause of Acute Diarrhea and Severe Hypokalemia

J Med Cases. 2023 Oct;14(9-10):307-316. doi: 10.14740/jmc4141. Epub 2023 Oct 13.


Pancreatic vasoactive intestinal peptide-producing tumor (VIPoma) is a rare functional neuroendocrine tumor most commonly presenting with watery diarrhea and electrolyte abnormalities that include hypokalemia, hypercalcemia and metabolic acidosis. This type of tumor has usually insidious clinical behavior that is characterized by chronic secretory diarrhea, lasting usually from months to years before diagnosis, not responsive to usual medical or dietary treatment approaches. Given the resemblance of VIPoma with other more common causes of chronic watery diarrhea, the final diagnosis is often delayed and the tumors are usually large and metastatic at the time of detection. Our case of pancreatic VIPoma demonstrates an unusual clinical course for this type of tumor with acute refractory diarrhea and rapid deterioration of patient's clinical and biochemical status that required emergent in-hospital diagnosis and treatment. Our patient is a 45-year-old woman who presented with abrupt, watery diarrhea during the past 24 h before admission accompanied with severe hypokalemia as well as hyponatremia, hyperglycemia and hypercalcemia. Despite aggressive management with fluid administration and electrolyte replenishment, no significant improvement in patient's symptoms and electrolyte imbalance was observed. After exclusion of other causes of acute diarrhea from the medical history and the laboratory tests, the clinical suspicion of a functional neuroendocrine tumor was raised. After the establishment of final diagnosis of pancreatic VIPoma with biochemical tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), somatostatin analogues were prescribed and the patient underwent distal pancreatectomy and splenectomy with no signs of lymph node and splenic metastases. Few days after the surgical resection of the tumor, the patient readmitted to our hospital with tarry stools and severe anemia. The abdominal computed tomography (CT) revealed a retroperitoneal cystic lesion. The gastrointestinal bleeding gradually recessed after endoscopic hemostasis of duodenal ulcer lesions whereas the cystic lesion (postoperative lymphocele) was successfully drained under CT-guidance before discharge. After almost 10 years postoperatively, the patient is still asymptomatic with no signs of relapse or metastasis of the disease in the periodic laboratory and imaging follow-up. In conclusion, pancreatic VIPoma can sometimes manifest symptoms of abrupt onset and rapid progression that require high clinical suspicion, appropriate diagnostic workup and aggressive management.

Keywords: Acute diarrhea; Hypokalemia; Neuroendocrine tumors; Pancreatectomy; Pancreatic VIPoma; Somatostatin analogues.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

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