Pancreatitis is an inflammation, or swelling, of the pancreas. In children, common causes include viruses and other infections, medications, congenital malformations and other inherited conditions, and trauma to the abdomen. In one out of four childhood cases, a cause is never found.
Inflammation of the pancreas is often associated with pain in the upper abdomen and/or the back which may develop slowly, be mild and of short duration, or be sudden in onset, more severe and longer lasting. Nausea and vomiting are very common; fever and jaundice may be present.
When pancreatitis is suspected, laboratory tests search for higher than normal levels of some of the proteins produced by the pancreas, such as “amylase” and “lipase.” An abdominal ultrasound (sonogram) or a CAT scan (computer tomography) of the abdomen can help show the inflammation and swelling of the pancreas and surrounding tissues. Once pancreatitis is diagnosed, other blood tests are done to search for a cause and to look for any complications due to the inflammation.
Treatment mainly consists of putting the pancreas to rest (i.e. no eating or drinking) and relieving any associated pain. Initially, an intravenous line (IV) is placed to give fluids and medications. A nasogastric tube (a small flexible tube introduced via the nose into the stomach) may be placed to suck fluid from the stomach. Typically, food is reintroduced within a few days, either by mouth or through the nasogastric tube. Most people, children in particular, recover within a week, with no permanent damage to the pancreas.
Information adapted with permission from NASPGHAN, the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition.