Pancreatitis in Children | Symptoms & Causes

What are the symptoms of pancreatitis in children?

It is important to remember that the symptoms of pancreatitis can be vague and confused with signs of other diseases, such as viral gastroenteritis. If your child is an infant and cannot verbalize pain, they may be more fussy and irritable with persistent crying.

Acute pancreatitis symptoms

A child with acute pancreatitis needs immediate medical attention and will usually require hospitalization and close monitoring. Symptoms may include:

  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • difficulty breathing

Chronic pancreatitis symptoms

The most common symptom of chronic pancreatitis is pain and discomfort in the upper abdomen — sometimes extending to the back — which may last hours or even days, and can be constant or intermittent. This pain may increase after eating and drinking.

Other symptoms include digestive issues such as:

  • chronic weight loss, even when eating habits and amounts are normal
  • nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • oily stools

What causes pancreatitis in children?

The pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach. It produces chemicals (called enzymes) needed to digest food. It also produces the hormones insulin and glucagon.

When scarring of the pancreas occurs, the organ is no longer able to make the right amount of these enzymes. As a result, your body may be unable to digest fat and key elements of food.

Damage to the parts of the pancreas that make insulin may lead to diabetes.

Causes of acute pancreatitis

There are many causes of acute pancreatitis, however, in approximately 30 percent of cases, a cause cannot be identified. Sometimes injury to the abdomen — such as a bicycle or playground accident or sports injury — can cause acute pancreatitis, or common medications and conditions, including:

  • anti-seizure medications
  • certain antibiotics
  • specific types of chemotherapy
  • gallstones or infections
  • problems when the immune system attacks the body
  • blockage of the tubes (ducts) that drain enzymes from the pancreas
  • high levels of fats, called triglycerides, in the blood
  • overactive parathyroid gland

Other chronic conditions may cause pancreatitis such as IBD, cystic fibrosis or celiac disease.

Causes of chronic pancreatitis

Repeated episodes of acute pancreatitis can lead to chronic pancreatitis. In some cases, genetics may be a factor. However, sometimes, the cause is unknown.