Conditions + Treatments

Pancreatitis in Children

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What is pancreatitis?

Acute Pancreas

The pancreas, a large organ located in the upper abdomen and behind the stomach, plays a very important role in digestion as well as in controlling blood sugar. Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed. The Pancreatic Disorders Program at Boston Children's Hospital treats common and rare conditions that affect the pancreas.

Acute pancreatitis occurs suddenly. Typically, a child will have severe abdominal pain, perhaps with nausea and vomiting (rarely fever). The majority of cases of acute pancreatitis resolve within a week, and there are no long-term complications. (Sometimes it takes several weeks.)

When acute pancreatitis occurs, cells release special enzymes, or proteins named amylase or lipase, into the bloodstream. Doctors measure enzyme levels to diagnose pancreatitis. The inflammation prompts irritation, pain, nausea and vomiting.

The best way to treat the inflammation is to allow your child’s gut to rest by not eating solid food and drinking plenty of clear liquids. If the pain does not improve, or if your child is unable to keep clear liquids down without vomiting, they may need to be admitted to the hospital to receive intravenous fluids for nourishment and medicines to help treat the pain.

Sometimes, the inflammation can be severe enough that other organs surrounding the pancreas also become inflamed, and your child may need to be admitted to an intensive care unit for close monitoring. Injury to the pancreas can come from many causes, including trauma (such as handle bar injuries), medications, infections, gallstones, genetic or metabolic disorders. Oftentimes, acute pancreatitis occurs in children who have a separate illness.

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