Cincinnati Children's Blog

Stomach Pain and Acute Pancreatitis: Questions To Ask Your Child’s Doctor

Stomach Pain and Acute Pancreatitis: Questions To Ask Your Child’s Doctor

Some parents might be surprised to learn that more and more children are being diagnosed with acute pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of the pancreas. It occurs in about 1 in 10,000 kids of all ages, including infants and toddlers.

We’ve moved from an era of believing that acute pancreatitis only happens in adults to it happening as often in kids and being just as debilitating, activity limiting and with the possibly of  being just as severe.

More awareness for this condition is certainly needed because some of the symptoms can be mistaken for other conditions in kids, such as constipation, gastroenteritis and reflux.

Because acute pancreatitis is often misdiagnosed, children may have a difficult time receiving a diagnosis and may make multiple trips to the ER, especially if the problem is recurrent.

If you’re currently in a state where you’re wondering if your child’s stomach pain could be acute pancreatitis, here are some questions to ask your child’s doctor:

  1. Do my child’s stomach pain symptoms mimic acute pancreatitis?
    Children typically have a similar pattern of symptoms:
          Severe onset
          Pain high and deep in the belly (maybe even in the back)
          Nausea and vomiting
          Swollen abdomen
          Rapid pulse, fever
          Fussiness and poor feeding in infants
  2. Is there a simple way to screen my child for acute pancreatitis – to rule it out?
    Aside from a medical history and physical exam, your child’s doctor can order a blood draw to test your child’s pancreatic enzymes. This is a quick screening tool to understand if your child’s lipase and amylase levels are elevated, which can be an indication of acute pancreatitis.
  3. Could any of these recent events have anything to do with my child’s stomach pain?
    As your doctor is asking about your child’s medical history, be sure to mention if your child has had any of the following from the below list, as they could potentially cause acute pancreatitis (and will help give your child’s doctor a more complete picture):
          Trauma to the pancreas (such as a strong blow to the abdomen)
          Viral illnesses
          Certain medications (the list is extensive; please inform your doctor of all your child’s medications)
          Gallstones (stones in the gallbladder)
         Metabolic issues (such as high calcium, high triglycerides)
          Duct or anatomic abnormalities
          Family history of acute pancreatitis

If you’re concerned about your child’s stomach pain and you suspect it could be acute pancreatitis, the above questions can help steer the conversation with your child’s doctor. It’s important to catch acute pancreatitis early because if it does go undiagnosed, it can potentially lead to severe manifestations and impact other organs in the body.
The good news is that if it is caught early, the majority of patients will fully recover with supportive care, such as pain management, nutrition therapy, hydration and electrolyte treatment. Only about 15-30% of acute pancreatitis cases are severe to the point that the inflammation affects other organs in the body and only a smaller subset of that group will go on to have chronic pancreatitis (which can lead to permanent damage to the pancreas over time).

If you have any concerns or your child is continuing to have recurrent acute pancreatitis, your doctor may recommend a visit to a pancreas care center that has experience preventing, treating and managing it.

If you have questions, or would like to request an appointment, please contact our Pancreas Care Center.

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