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Child’s Tummy Upset? Could Be Pancreatitis


Typically, when a child has a fever and is nauseated with an upset stomach, it is often just the result of a “24-hour bug.” However, that is not always the case, as an inflammation of the pancreas, or pancreatitis, can often present itself in a similar manner.

Wait a minute; did you say pancreatitis? In a child? As surprising as the might sound – yes!

Most people associate pancreatitis with adults, usually ones who suffer from gall stones or drunk excessive alcohol, however, the reality is that children can also be affected. The difference lies in the root causes behind it, but that doesn’t make it any less serious. It is for this reason that parents need to be extra diligent and be wary of the signs so as to recognize pancreatitis early.

According to Dr. Kadakkal Radhakrishnan, M.D, and contributor to U.S. News Health Care, “The pancreas is a digestive gland in the back of the abdominal cavity. The pancreas makes digestive juices that drain into the upper part of the small intestine, and it’s important in the digestion of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. It’s an amazing phenomenon that the pancreas, despite making the digestive juices, never digests itself due to the natural checks and balances in the gland. When these checks and balances are interrupted, pancreatitis can occur.

These checks and balances include producing digestive secondary to certain hormonal signals when food reaches the beginning of the small intestine, free flow of digestive juices into the small intestine through tubes called ducts and prevention of activation of the digestive enzymes.”

There are two types of pancreatitis: acute and chronic. When pancreatitis occur a single time, it is known as acute pancreatitis, and when it occurs multiple times, it is known as chronic pancreatitis.

Half the time in children, the cause of pancreatitis is a mystery. It may be caused by certain medications, a viral infection or even trauma. When chronic pancreatitis is present, it is thought to be caused by genetic defects or due to congenital abnormalities in the pancreatic duct.

The presence of pancreatitis can be incredibly painful, especially for children. If you find that they are compelling of a persistent stomach ache, more specifically, in the middle and/or left side of the upper abdomen with pain radiating in the back, it is likely something a bit (or a lot) more serious that a tummy ache.

Thankfully, there are treatment options available. Dr. Radhakrishnan goes on to say that “low-fat diet may help reduce the frequency of attacks. Sometimes, digestive enzyme supplementation is required if the patient develops digestive enzyme deficiency. When attacks of pancreatitis become more frequent, the pain can become debilitating. In this situation, more intense treatment options are available, such as total pancreatectomy (removal of the pancreas) and islet cell autotransplant (injection of the patient’s own insulin-making cells from the pancreas to the liver). These have both been shown to improve quality of life and decrease the risk of diabetes.”

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