Pancreatitis in children

Also known as: acute pancreatitis, chronic pancreatitis, familial pancreatitis.

What is pancreatitis?

The pancreas is an abdominal organ found in the upper part of the abdomen which plays an important role in digestion and controlling the body’s blood sugar. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. It can be either acute and last just a few days or chronic and cause problems for many years.

What can cause pancreatitis in children?

In acute pancreatitis, a cause for the inflammation is often not found. Sometimes injury to the abdomen from bicycle handlebar accidents or sports injury or other problems like gallstones or infections may result in the release of pancreatic enzymes that normally help with digestion into the pancreatic tissue and sometimes organs around the pancreas, causing the inflammation of acute pancreatitis.

Certain antibiotics, anti-seizure medications or chemotherapy may also cause acute pancreatic injury. Genetic or metabolic disorders may also play a role. Chronic pancreatitis may be caused by genetic factors, repeated attacks of acute pancreatitis, and in association with other disorders (e.g., Cystic Fibrosis, blocked pancreatic drainage tubes, gallstones or immune system/hormone gland abnormalities) or some medications.

What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?

Acute symptoms include:

  • Sudden severe abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty breathing

Small children may just be irritable and cry. Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include:

  • Long-lasting discomfort in the upper part of the abdomen and/or back which gets worse after food indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting/diarrhoea
  • Difficulty with food digestion resulting in weight loss
  • Diabetes
  • Pale/clay colored fatty stools that float

What are pancreatitis treatment options?

Acute pancreatitis is primarily managed with supportive care as there is no specific treatment that improves recovery. Severe cases may require hospitalization to ensure adequacy of fluid and food intake. Chronic pancreatitis is treated with pancreatic enzymes to help with digestion, special diets/vitamins, medications to correct metallic problems and depending on the cause, surgery.

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: July 25, 2022 03:07 PM

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