Ampulla of Vater

The ampulla of Vater, or hepatopancreatic ampulla, is a small reservoir where your common bile duct and pancreatic duct meet. It collects bile and pancreatic juices. As part of your digestive system, the ampulla allows digestive juices to meet and break down food after it travels from your stomach to your small intestine.


What is the ampulla of Vater?

The ampulla of Vater is a part of your body involved in the digestive system. It’s an area where your common bile duct meets your pancreatic duct.

Your common bile duct is a tube that carries bile from your liver and gallbladder to your duodenum, the first part of your small intestine. Bile is a substance that breaks down fats so you can digest them. Your pancreatic duct carries digestive juices from your pancreas to your duodenum.

Healthcare providers may also refer to the ampulla of Vater as the hepatopancreatic ampulla and hepatopancreatic duct.


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How does the ampulla of Vater work?

At the end of your ampulla, there’s a small opening into your duodenum called the major duodenal papilla (also called the papilla of Vater). A muscular valve called the sphincter of Oddi controls the opening of the papilla so bile and pancreatic juices in the ampulla can mix with food in your duodenum. Then the sphincter closes so food doesn’t enter the ampulla.

What is the function of the hepatopancreatic ampulla?

The ampulla of Vater serves as a connection between areas of your digestive system. It acts as a reservoir for pancreatic juices and bile, enabling the release of these substances that help your body break down and absorb food.


Where is the ampulla of Vater located in the body?

The ampulla of Vater is in the middle of your abdomen, near your pancreas, liver, small intestine and gallbladder.

What does the hepatopancreatic duct look like?

“Ampulla” is the Latin word for “flask,” a type of bottle. The bottom of a flask is a wide area that stores fluid. A flask narrows near the opening. The ampulla of Vater is a small, dilated flask-shaped sac, almost like a sphere with a cone on one end.


Conditions and Disorders

What conditions and disorders affect the ampulla of Vater?

A few conditions can affect the ampulla of Vater:

  • Ampullary adenoma: An ampullary adenoma is a polyp (a small growth that’s usually noncancerous). These polyps don’t usually cause any symptoms. They’re often discovered when people are getting an endoscopy for other gastrointestinal issues. Some of these adenomas can develop into cancer. If this happens, your provider will recommend resection (removal).
  • Ampullary cancer: A polyp can develop into cancer in your ampulla. The condition is rare and generally occurs in people in their 70s. It’s more common in people with a family history of polyposis syndrome or hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer. Treatment often involves surgery to remove the tumor if it’s caught early. More advanced cases or recurrent (repeat) tumors may require chemotherapy and radiation.
  • Gallstones: If a gallstone gets stuck in the ampulla of Vater, it can be life-threatening. If this happens, a surgeon will remove the stones using endoscopy.

If a polyp, cancerous tumor or gallstone in your ampulla blocks your bile duct from emptying bile, or your pancreas duct from emptying digestive enzymes, it can cause symptoms. Signs may include:


How can I keep the ampulla of Vater healthy?

Experts aren’t sure how to prevent ampullary polyps or cancer.

But you can help prevent gallstones and promote overall digestive health with several strategies:

  • Avoid foods with lots of refined carbohydrates.
  • Choose healthy fats, such as fish oil and olive oil, instead of fried food and desserts.
  • Eat foods high in fiber (for example, fruits and veggies, beans and whole grains).
  • Limit sugar.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

The ampulla of Vater is part of your digestive system. It’s a small reservoir where your common bile duct and pancreatic duct meet. An opening at the end of your ampulla allows bile and pancreatic juices to flow into your duodenum (small intestine). These digestive juices help your body break down food and absorb it.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 09/16/2022.

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