The pancreas is a gland that sits behind the stomach and plays a crucial role in digestion by secreting digestive juices. Pancreatitis means the pancreas is inflamed. This can occur suddenly – an acute onset – or over time, which is called chronic pancreatitis.
Usually when children develop acute pancreatitis, doctors can manage any problems that occur without surgery. Rarely, complications happen that may require surgery.
Complications of acute pancreatitis can happen if pseudocysts (fluid-filled sacs) in the pancreas develop. They usually occur after a child has an injury or physical trauma to the abdomen. These lumps can get infected. Or, they can enlarge and block ducts leading out of the pancreas. When this happens, the pancreas can swell and not get enough blood.
If patients don't get treatment for these problems, an emergency called hemorrhagic pancreatitis can occur
No one knows exactly what causes pancreatitis. Genetic problems can make children more likely to develop the disease, and trauma following an accident also can increase the risk that pancreatitis will occur.
Pancreatitis is not common in children, but when it does occur, children typically will have pain, exhibit a swollen abdomen, and they may vomit.
Test and Diagnosis
To diagnose acute pancreatitis, doctors use different tests, including ultrasound or CT scans that look for signs of inflammation of the organ. Various lab tests that look at the health of the digestive tract also can detect pancreatitis.
Uncomplicated acute pancreatitis usually gets better in about 72 hours, and supportive therapy includes painkillers (analgesics) and IV fluids given through a tube, to help children recover.
Surgery is rarely needed and only when children don't get better, in the case of chronic pancreatitis, or if there are complications. These complications are usually caused by infection, a lack of blood flow to the pancreas or blockage of the ducts inside the pancreas.
Most children do very well after treatment and do not have additional problems.