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Pancreatitis

  • Pancreatitis is a rare disease in which the pancreas—a large gland behind a child's stomach that plays a key role in digestion—becomes inflamed.

    Boston Children's Hospital's Division of Endocrinology have teamed up with Harvard Medical School researchers to seek new treatment for disorders of the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal glands, gonads and endocrine pancreas.

    What is pancreatitis?

    Pancreatitis is a rare disease in which the pancreas—a large gland behind the stomach that plays a key role in digestion—becomes inflamed. When inflammation happens, digestive enzymes that normally help break down fats, proteins and carbohydrates attack the pancreas.

    Children with severe cases may have bleeding into the gland, serious tissue damage, infection and cysts. Enzymes and toxins may enter the child's bloodstream and seriously injure her organs, such as the heart, lungs and kidney.

    What causes pancreatitis?

    • Childhood pancreatitis is often the result of traumatic injury to the abdomen.

    • Sometimes, pancreatitis is related to the use of certain prescription drugs or the presence of excess fat in the blood (hyperlipidemia).

    • It is sometimes inherited.

    In rare cases, pancreatitis results from infections, such as the mumps or mononucleosis.

    What are some symptoms of pancreatitis?

    • severe pain in the upper abdomen
    • sometimes pain in the back or other areas
    • swollen and tender abdomen
    • nausea, vomiting
    • fever
    • increased pulse rate

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    Boston Children's Hospital
    300 Longwood Avenue
    Boston MA 02115

     617-355-7476
  • Blood tests

    Your child's doctor will look for abnormally high levels of amylase (a digestive enzyme formed in the pancreas) and changes in your child's blood levels of calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, bicarbonate, sugar and fats.

    Imaging studies

    An abdominal ultrasound (also called sonography), uses high-frequency sound waves and a computer to create images of your child's blood vessels, tissues and organs.

    Computed tomography scan (also called CT or CAT scan) uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of your child's body. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.

  • With prompt medical treatment, pancreatitis will have no lasting consequences.

    • Your child will probably be admitted to the hospital doctors will most likely give her fluids through her vein.

    • Her kidneys and lungs may be treated.

    • Your child may have to have surgery if there are complications, such as the formation of cysts, bleeding, infection or intractable pain. Surgery is sometimes needed to rule out other abdominal problems that can resemble pancreatitis.

    • In some cases, a child cannot control vomiting and needs to have a tube through her nose to her stomach to remove fluid and air.

    • If your child has a mild case, she may not have food for 3 or 4 days but is given fluids and pain relievers by vein. In severe cases, your child may be fed through the veins for 3 to 6 weeks while the pancreas slowly heals.

    • Antibiotics may be given if signs of infection arise.

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