What Are Pancreatitis and Acute Recurrent Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis in children is an inflammatory condition of the pancreas that's often painful.

The pancreas has two main functions:

  1. It makes enzymes that the body uses to break down or digest food.
  2. It makes insulin that regulates the body's blood sugar.

Types of Pancreatitis

There are two types of pancreatitis: chronic and acute recurrent.

Chronic pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis is when your child’s pancreas is progressively irritated and sometimes becomes irreversibly damaged.

This damage causes scarring in the pancreas and leads to the loss of a part of digestive function. It may cause diabetes, as well.

Often there are genetic risk factors that increase the chances of getting chronic pancreatitis.

Acute recurrent pancreatitis

Acute recurrent pancreatitis is not a chronic disease. It can come and go and has different causes than chronic pancreatitis.

Some issues that can cause acute recurrent pancreatitis such as:

  • An injury to the belly.
  • A blockage within the pancreas.
  • A defect in the shape of the pancreas.
  • Other diseases.
  • Drugs or toxins.

Sometimes, doctors don't know the cause.

Often, genetic risk factors can increase the chances of getting acute recurrent pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis Symptoms

Some children may not have physical symptoms, and others may be hard to notice.

Some symptoms of chronic pancreatitis are:

  • Pain high in the stomach.
  • Nausea, vomiting.
  • Slow growth.
  • Weight loss.
  • Diarrhea or oily stools.

Complications of pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis is a lifelong disorder, although its symptoms may come and go in some kids.

But, because it prevents proper food digestion, children with pancreatitis may not gain weight easily or may grow slowly. Some children have severe stomach pain that isn't easy to control with medicine.

Chronic pancreatitis may lead to diabetes since the pancreas might not make enough insulin to control the body's blood sugar.

It may also increase the risk for pancreatic cancer.

How Do You Diagnose Pancreatitis in Children

Your doctor will need to examine your child and learn about his or her medical history. Blood tests can often confirm a pancreatitis diagnosis.

If your doctor diagnoses pancreatitis, your child may need more tests to learn the extent of damage to the pancreas. Testing can also confirm what type of pancreatitis your child has.

Your child's doctor may order one or more of these tests:

  • CT scan of the belly.
  • MRI of the belly.
  • Ultrasound or endoscopic ultrasound (passing a small tube through the mouth into the stomach) of the pancreas.

Chronic and Acute Recurrent Pancreatitis Treatment

The goal of treating both chronic and acute recurrent pancreatitis is to relieve the symptoms of this disease.

Pancreatitis treatments your doctor may suggest include:

  • Medicine to replace the enzymes that the pancreas does not make.
  • Special vitamin supplements that the body absorbs.
  • A low-fat diet for your child to help control symptoms.

If a fixable defect is the cause of your child's pancreatitis, surgery can sometimes cure it. Genetic chronic pancreatitis is normally not curable.

If medicine and supplements don't relieve symptoms and improve your child's health, a surgeon may need to remove the pancreas.

Pancreas removal and islet cell transplant

At Children’s, we sometimes treat chronic and acute recurrent pancreatitis with a total pancreatectomy and auto islet transplant (TPAIT).

A total pancreatectomy is surgery to remove the entire pancreas.

An auto islet transplant means surgeons use your child's own pancreas cells and inject them back into the body.

With TPAIT, doctors take your child's pancreatic islet cells they need to make hormones. They then transplant them back into the liver.

Your Child's Pancreatitis Consult and Care: What to Expect

If a doctor diagnosed your child with chronic pancreatitis or acute recurrent pancreatitis, you're not alone. The Center for Rare Disease Therapy (CRDT) is here to help.

To make an appointment for your child or refer a patient for pancreatitis care, contact us by:

Here’s what you can expect when you come to us for your child's first pancreatitis consult.

How long will the first visit take?

Your first visit will take at least 2 hours, based on what tests and exams your child has already had.

If we're doing a surgical consult on this visit, your child will see other experts from the CRDT. This will take about 8 hours over 2 days.

What should I expect at my child's first visit for pancreatitis?

Your child will receive a complete exam to confirm a precise diagnosis of chronic or acute recurrent pancreatitis. We'll also look at how much the disease has affected the child.

Since we work as a team, other doctors and staff might see your child during your visit.

These may include a:

  • Pain specialist.
  • Dietitian.
  • Hormone disease expert.
  • Surgeon.
  • Genetic counselor.
  • Psychologist.
  • Social worker.

During your visit, we'll talk with you about:

  • Likely next steps for your child in the near future.
  • Options for treating and caring for your child's chronic or acute recurrent pancreatitis.
  • Ways to care for your child at home to help improve his or her quality of life.

If the doctor thinks pancreatic surgery might be a good option for your child, we'll discuss the details. We want to make sure you know what the surgery entails and what you may need to do to prepare.

By the end of your visit, you will have a care plan tailored to your child’s needs. We'll also schedule a follow-up visit in 3 months.

Before you leave, please feel free to ask us about your child's pancreatitis diagnosis, treatment, or anything else.

If my child had tests at the Center for Rare Disease Therapy, when should I expect the results?

We’ll call within 2 weeks to discuss the test results and next steps for your child's pancreatitis care.

You can also find your child's test results if you signed up for MyCHP — Children's patient portal.

MyCHP lets you manage your child's health online. It's a free service for patients, parents, and guardians of UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Partners in Your Child's Pancreatitis Care

When a child has a rare disease like chronic or acute recurrent pancreatitis, it affects the whole family.

At the Center for Rare Disease Therapy, we see each family member as our partners.

The best care happens when we merge our expertise in pancreatitis with your knowledge of what’s best for your child.

Center for Rare Disease Therapy patient storiesMeet Our Rare Disease Center Patients

Learn how others are finding help and hope for their child’s rare disease through the expertise at UPMC Children’s.

View Center for Rare Disease Therapy patient stories »

Contact Us About Your Child’s Pancreatitis

At the CRDT, every child diagnosed with a rare disease receives a tailored treatment plan and family-centered care.

For an appointment, consult, or referral, contact us:

We’ll be in touch within 2 business days.