Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Acute Pancreatitis—Child

Definition

The pancreas is a long, flat organ located behind the stomach. It creates enzymes that help digest food as well as hormones, like insulin, that help control blood sugar.

Acute pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas that occurs suddenly.

The Pancreas

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Causes ^

The most common cause of pancreatitis in children is trauma to the abdomen.

Other causes include:

  • The use of certain medications
  • Specific viral infections
  • Ischemia—lack of blood supply to the pancreas

Sometimes the cause of acute pancreatitis in children is unknown.

Risk Factors ^

Factors that may increase your child’s risk of acute pancreatitis include:

Symptoms ^

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain and swelling in the abdomen
  • Back pain or left shoulder pain
  • Nausea and vomiting—vomit may be yellow, green, or brown
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever

Diagnosis ^

You will be asked about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Blood will be taken for testing as well.

Images may be taken of your child’s bodily structures. This can be done with:

Treatment ^

Pancreatitis may resolve on its own. Supportive care may be needed if your child has frequent vomiting and poor appetite. To replace fluids and provide nutrition, your child’s doctor may advise:

  • IV fluids
  • Total parenteral nutrition—nutrition given by IV
  • A feeding tube

Your child may also be given supplemental oxygen.

If your child’s condition does not improve on its own or is severe, your child’s doctor will talk to you about a treatment plan. Options include:

Dietary Changes

Your child’s doctor may advise dietary change and plenty of fluids to promote healing of the pancreas.

Medications

Your child’s doctor may advise the following medication:

  • Over-the-counter pain medication
  • Prescription pain medication
  • Antibiotics if an infection is present or possible
  • Anti-nausea medication

Talk to your child’s doctor about the medications that your child takes. Certain medications may need to be stopped or changed if they are the cause of the acute pancreatitis.

Surgery

Surgery may be needed if your child has complications, such as bleeding, infection, or uncontrolled pain.

Another complication is the formation of cysts and pseudocysts. Cysts are fluid-filled sacs in or on the pancreas. A pseudocyst contains enzymes or semi-solid material that form in spaces inside the pancreas. Cysts and pseudocysts may cause pain, nausea, vomiting, or become infected. Treatment may include:

  • Drainage with laparoscopic surgery, endoscopy (inserting a tube down the throat and into the small intestine and pancreas) or by inserting a catheter into the abdomen.
  • Pancreatic surgerywith removal of the cyst or pseudocyst, along with the affected part of the pancreas.

Prevention ^

If your child has very high triglycerides or other known causes of pancreatitis, talk to their doctor about treatment options to help reduce the chance of pancreatitis.

RESOURCES:

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
http://familydoctor.org

Kid's Health—Nemours Foundation
http://kidshealth.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

Sick Kids—The Hospital for Sick Children
http://www.sickkids.ca

REFERENCES:

Acute pancreatitis in children. The National Pancreas Foundation website. Available at: http://pancreasfoundation.org/patient-information/childrenpediatric-pancreatitis/acute-pancreatitis-in-children. Accessed December 21, 2017.

Acute pancreatitis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T127664/Acute-pancreatitis. Updated June 5, 2017. Accessed December 21, 2017.

Pancreatic cysts and pseudocysts. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_Pancreatitis/hic-pancreatic-cysts-and-pseudocysts. Updated April 24, 2014. Accessed December 21, 2017.

Pancreatitis. Johns Hopkins Children’s Center website. Available at: http://www.hopkinschildrens.org/Pancreatitis.aspx. Accessed December 21, 2017.

Pancreatitis. Kid's Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/endocrine/pancreatitis.html. Updated April 2014. Accessed December 21, 2017.

Pancreatitis in children. Boston Children’s Hospital website. Available at: http://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions/pancreatitis. Accessed December 21, 2017.

Uretsky G, Goldschmiedt M, James K. Childhood pancreatitis. Am Fam Physician. 1999;59(9):2507-2512.

8/28/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T127664/Acute-pancreatitis: Johnson CD, Besselink MG, Carter R. Acute pancreatitis. BMJ. 2014;349:g4859.

Last reviewed December 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kassir, MD  Last Updated: 12/28/2015