Pediatric HealthSource: Could Your Child's Stomachache be Pancreatitis?

Though more common in adults, inflammation of the pancreas can cause abdominal pain and other potentially serious symptoms in children.

Cheryl Gariepy, M.D.
Abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting can be signs of pancreatitis in children.

Q: Can kids really get pancreatitis?

A: Yes! While pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, is most often associated with adults, it can occur at any age, even in babies. An attack is often marked by severe pain in the upper abdomen, nausea and vomiting. Children typically recover in a week, but severe attacks can permanently damage the pancreas and lead to long hospitalizations.

The pancreas has two main functions: It helps break down food so the body can absorb it, and it helps to regulate blood sugar levels. Loss of pancreas function can cause things such as malnutrition, weight loss and diabetes.

Pancreatitis in children is most often caused by abdominal trauma, gallstones, and medications. Some children develop repeated episodes of pancreatitis or chronic pancreatitis, which are often caused by metabolic or genetic conditions, even when there is no family history of pancreatitis.

Most pancreatitis attacks resolve with fluids, pain medications and rest. More severe cases may need breathing support, blood pressure support and other procedures to begin recovery. Sometimes, an endoscopy will be performed to make sure there aren’t any blockages to the flow of pancreatic juice into the intestine, or the gallbladder will need to be removed. If your child is experiencing severe abdominal pain and vomiting, seek medical care.

Always consult your child’s pediatrician concerning your child’s health.

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Cheryl Gariepy M.D., is the director of the Pancreas Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Cheryl Gariepy, M.D.


Parents can help their children cope by:

  • Managing fluid intake – Making sure your child is well hydrated, especially during a pancreatitis attack, is vital.
  • Administering pain medication – Staying ahead of the pain by giving medication during an attack (consult your physician for guidance) can keep your child as comfortable as possible.
  • Monitoring growth – If you notice that your child’s growth slows, contact your pediatrician to ensure that your child is absorbing food properly.