What is pancreatitis?


Pancreatitis: Overview

The pancreas is an organ behind the stomach. It makes hormones and enzymes to help your body digest food.

But if these enzymes attack the pancreas, it can get inflamed. This is called pancreatitis. Most cases are caused by gallstones or by heavy alcohol use.

If you take care of yourself at home, it will help you get better. It will also help you avoid more problems with your pancreas.


Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, an organ in your belly that makes insulin and enzymes that help you digest food. Pancreatitis can cause sudden, severe belly pain. It's usually caused by heavy alcohol use or gallstones.

Most people recover fully from pancreatitis.

What are the symptoms of pancreatitis in children?

The main symptom of pancreatitis is pain or tenderness in the upper part of the belly. The pain can be severe. In older children, the pain can spread to their back. Babies and very young children may be cranky and cry more.

Your child may also have a fever, nausea, or vomiting. Not all children will have all these symptoms.

Some children get so sick that they have problems breathing.

Children with chronic pancreatitis may have other symptoms too. These include slow growth, weight loss, belly pain after eating, diarrhea, and oily stools that are hard to flush.

How is pancreatitis in children treated?

Treatment includes taking care of symptoms and supporting your child's body while the pancreas heals. This care may happen at a hospital.

Your child may get medicine to ease the pain and nausea. Fluids may be given through a vein (I.V.). Your child can start eating as soon as they feel ready. For severe cases, your child may be fed through a feeding tube or an I.V. until they can eat by mouth.

If gallstones are causing the problem, the doctor may do a procedure to remove the stones.

Children with chronic pancreatitis might need to eat a low-fat diet and take enzyme pills. They may use pain medicine. In rare cases, surgery is needed if medicine doesn't help ease the pain.

How is endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatogram (ERCP) used to treat pancreatitis?

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatogram (ERCP) is a procedure used to remove one or more gallstones from the common bile duct. ERCP can also be used to widen or drain blocked ducts and insert stents.

How can you prevent pancreatitis?

You can lower your risk for this disease by limiting how much alcohol you drink. The amount needed to cause pancreatitis may be different for each person. In general, a moderate amount is no more than 2 alcoholic drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women and older adults.

You can't fully prevent pancreatitis caused by gallstones. But you may be able to lower your risk for gallstones. To do this, it's important to stay at a healthy weight, be active, and eat healthy low-fat foods.

If you smoke, you may lower your risk for pancreatitis if you quit.

How is pancreatitis diagnosed in children?

Your child's doctor will do an exam. The doctor will ask about your child's symptoms and past health. The doctor may be able to tell that your child has this problem based on the symptoms and where the child has pain in the belly.

Your child may have blood tests. These tests will check the levels of enzymes called amylase and lipase. With this condition, the levels of these enzymes are often very high.

Your child also may have imaging tests of the belly. These may include an ultrasound or MRI. Sometimes a special MRI test is used to look for blocked ducts.

How can you care for yourself when you have pancreatitis?

  • Drink clear liquids and eat bland foods until you feel better. Bland foods include rice, dry toast, and crackers. They also include bananas and applesauce.
  • Eat a low-fat diet until your doctor says your pancreas is healed.
  • Do not drink alcohol. Tell your doctor if you need help to quit. Counseling, support groups, and sometimes medicines can help you stay sober.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Get extra rest until you feel better.

To prevent future problems with your pancreas

  • Do not drink alcohol.
  • Tell your doctors and pharmacist that you've had pancreatitis. They can help you avoid medicines that may cause this problem again.

What is pancreatitis in children?

The pancreas is an organ behind the stomach. It makes hormones and enzymes to help the body digest food.

Usually these enzymes flow from the pancreas to the intestines. But if they leak into the pancreas, they can irritate it and cause pain and swelling. This is called pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis often happens suddenly (acute). It lasts a short time. Most children have one attack and get better.

Sometimes a child gets pancreatitis more than once (acute recurrent). Or it turns into a long-term (chronic) condition. These problems are rare in children.

What causes pancreatitis?

Most cases of pancreatitis are caused by gallstones or heavy alcohol use. The disease can also be caused by an injury, an infection, or certain medicines. In some cases, doctors don't know what causes the disease.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.