What is pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed. 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.

A normal pancreas secretes digestive enzymes that do not become active until they reach the small intestine. However, when the pancreas becomes inflamed, the digestive enzymes begin to attack the pancreas itself.

Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic, but either form can lead to complications.

Rylan’s journey

Doctors at Boston Children’s helped a young boy from Texas with his bout of idiopathic pancreatitis.

Rylan holds a fish.

Acute pancreatitis

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.

Chronic pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis can result from recurring attacks of acute pancreatitis, and where specific changes occur and impair pancreatic function.

How we care for pancreatitis

The Boston Children’s Hospital Pancreatic Disorders Program is recognized by the National Pancreas Foundation as a leader in the diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic disorders for children. Boston Children’s is ranked as the #1 children's hospital by U.S. News & World Report. Our team includes the best gastroenterologists, hepatologists and dietitians for children in the country — all dedicated to helping children with common or complex gastrointestinal, liver and nutritional problems. In addition, we have a close working relationship with the adult pancreatic center at Harvard Medical School-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which helps us when it’s time to transition the care of young adults.