Some kids who have repeated episodes of acute pancreatitis can develop chronic
What Does the Pancreas Do?
The pancreas is a large gland that sits behind the stomach. It makes digestive
enzymes that are released into the small intestine to help break down food. The pancreas
also makes insulin and glucagon, two hormones
that help control blood sugar levels.
What Causes Pancreatitis?
Common causes of pancreatitis in kids include:
gallstones or problems with the ducts (tubes) in the pancreas or liver
traumatic injury to abdomen
very high triglycerides
genetic or inherited disorders
Some medical conditions or illnesses, such as cystic
fibrosis or celiac
disease, can increase a child's risk for pancreatitis. Sometimes, the cause of
pancreatitis isn't found.
How Is Pancreatitis Diagnosed?
To diagnose pancreatitis, doctors will order blood tests, including tests that
measure the pancreatic enzymes amylase
and lipase. If these
levels are high, an abdominal
ultrasound can help the doctor check the liver and pancreas and look for gallstones.
Other tests, such as a CAT
scan or MRI, can
check for inflammation or damage to the pancreas.
How Is Pancreatitis Treated?
Most of the time, pancreatitis gets better on its own in about a week. As the pancreas
heals, doctors can give medicine to control pain and treat nausea and vomiting.
Kids who can drink enough fluids and whose pain eases with oral pain medicine can
be cared for at home. Children with more severe pancreatitis will need care in the
hospital. They'll get intravenous (IV) fluids and pain medicine. The care team will
watch for complications, such as infection, breathing problems, or kidney problems.
Doctors recommend that kids with mild pancreatitis start eating as soon as possible.
Kids with more serious cases may get formula through a feeding tube that goes right
into the stomach or small intestine. Some might need to get IV nutrition — called
total parenteral nutrition (TPN).
Some children with pancreatitis need a procedure called endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography
(ERCP). ERCP lets doctors see the ducts in the pancreas and liver. During the ERCP,
doctors can remove gallstones or find and treat other causes of pancreatitis.
What Else Should I Know?
Most children with acute pancreatitis recover without any problems. Fluid in and
around the pancreas can happen, but usually gets better on its own. Sometimes, doctors
need to drain the fluid.
Kids with chronic pancreatitis have trouble digesting food and usually need to
take pancreatic enzyme supplements. Chronic pancreatitis may lead to diabetes,
but this usually takes many years to happen.