Pancreatitis in Children | Diagnosis & Treatment

How is pancreatitis diagnosed in children?

Acute pancreatitis

There is no single test to detect acute pancreatitis. The first step in the diagnosis process typically includes a blood test. This test will reveal whether there are abnormally high levels of enzymes, called amylase and lipase.

Imaging tests for acute pancreatitis may include: .

Blood tests and radiology scans, such as ultrasound, CT or MRI, may not always provide a clear-cut diagnosis. When this occurs, your doctor will make a clinical judgment based on your child’s history and the severity of symptoms.

Chronic pancreatitis

Unlike acute, a blood test generally does not identify chronic pancreatitis. Your clinician will perform variety of tests to determine if your child has chronic pancreatitis.

Imaging tests for chronic pancreatitis may include:

  • Abdominal ultrasound: An ultrasound will indicate whether the pancreas is swollen or inflamed.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: This can help rule out other causes of abdominal pain.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: May also be used to help rule out other causes of abdominal pain.
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): A test that combines fluoroscopy (x-ray technique) with flexible endoscopy, involving a scope with a tiny high-definition camera on the end to see inside the body and help identify problems of the pancreas, pancreatic duct, liver, gallbladder and bile ducts. 

In some cases, imaging tests may not always provide a clear-cut diagnosis. When this occurs, your doctor will make a clinical judgment based on your child’s history and the severity of symptoms.

What are the treatment options for pancreatitis in children?

Acute pancreatitis

There is no specific medication or treatment that will help the pancreas to recover. Typically, what is required is supportive care to help the body’s normal functions.

Supportive care may include:

  • Providing medicine to help treat the pain.
  • Giving anti-nausea medications for persistent vomiting.
  • Administering intravenous fluids to ensure your child remains well hydrated.
  • Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) can treat mild pain. However, stronger pain medication, such as narcotics like morphine, may be needed.

In cases of severe pancreatitis, causing a child to not eat for many days, your doctor may recommend giving essential liquid nutrition by placing a feeding tube through the nose into the stomach or intestine. Or they may recommend providing intravenous nutrition. Nutrition is important in the healing process.

Once the pain, vomiting and discomfort associated with acute pancreatitis have resolved, your child’s appetite will slowly return. They should be encouraged to try and eat. You child’s diet will range from clear liquids to regular food. The choices will depend on what your child can tolerate.

Chronic pancreatitis

Currently, there is no specific medication or cure for chronic pancreatitis. However, many physicians offer supportive care in which they treat the symptoms in an effort to support the body’s normal function. Supportive care may include:

  • medication to ease the pain associated with the condition
  • provide pancreatic enzymes treatment which will help with digestion
  • insulin may be given in severe cases to control the child’s sugar level

For children with chronic pancreatitis and pain, a surgical procedure called lateral pancreaticojejunostomy, or Peustow, may be recommended. This procedure connects a segment of the small intestine to the pancreas to improve drainage from the primary pancreatic duct. Another surgical option called a Total Pancreatectomy and Islet Auto Transplant (TPIAT), may be recommended. This complex procedure requires removing the pancreas and the hormone-producing cells and isolating and returning the cells via injection into the patient’s liver.