Pancreatitis in children, as in adults, occurs when the pancreas becomes swollen and inflamed.
The pancreas is an organ behind the stomach.
It produces chemicals called enzymes, which are needed to digest food. Most of the time, the enzymes are only active after they reach the small intestine.
When these enzymes become active inside the pancreas, they digest the tissue of the pancreas. This causes swelling, bleeding and damage to the organ and its blood vessels. This condition is called pancreatitis.
Common causes of pancreatitis in children include:
Other causes include:
Sometimes, the cause is unknown.
The main symptom of pancreatitis in children is severe pain in the upper abdomen. Sometimes the pain may spread to the back, lower abdomen, and front part of the chest. The pain may increase after meals.
Other symptoms may include:
Treatment may require a stay in the hospital. It may involve:
The provider may insert a tube through the child's nose or mouth to remove contents of the stomach. The tube will be left in for one or more days. This may be done if vomiting and severe pain don't improve. The child also may be given food through a vein (IV) or a feeding tube.
The child can be given solid food once they stop vomiting. Most children are able to take solid food within 1 or 2 days after an attack of acute pancreatitis.
In some cases, therapy is needed to:
Most cases go away in a week. Children usually recover completely.
Chronic pancreatitis is rarely seen in children. When it occurs, it is most often due to genetic defects or birth defects of the pancreas or biliary ducts.
Severe irritation of the pancreas, and pancreatitis due to blunt trauma, such as from a bike handle bar, can cause complications. These may include:
Call the provider if your child shows symptoms of pancreatitis. Also call if your child has these symptoms:
Most of the time, there is no way to prevent pancreatitis.
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Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM. Pancreatitis. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 378.
Vitale DS, Abu-El-Haija M. Pancreatitis. In: Wyllie R, Hyams JS, Kay M, eds. Pediatric Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 82.