(RxWiki News) The pancreas plays an important role in the digestion of food and overall metabolism. But when it becomes inflamed, it can cause serious problems.
Those problems appear to be increasing for children, according to a recent study.
The study found that the rate of acute pancreatitis in kids and teens has been increasing over the past decade even though related death rates have decreased.
Acute pancreatitis can be caused by gallstones, certain medications, infections, metabolic disorders or surgery, but in about a quarter of people, the cause is not known.
"See a doctor for a child's severe abdominal pain."
This study, led by Chaitanya Pant, MD, of the Department of Medicine at Kansas University Medical Center, looked at the rates and characteristics of acute pancreatitis in children.
The researchers analyzed data for the years 2000 through 2009 from a database at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
This database contained nationally representative data that the researchers could use to estimate the number of cases of acute pancreatitis throughout the US.
Overall, the researchers identified 55,012 cases of acute pancreatitis among children and adolescents, aged 1 to 20, who had been hospitalized.
During the ten years studied, the rate of acute pancreatitis for this age group increased from 23 cases per 10,000 hospitalizations each year to 35 cases for 10,000 annual hospitalizations.
The number of cases involving any pancreatitis, even if it was not the primary reason for hospital admission, increased from 39 cases per 10,000 annual hospitalizations to 61 annual hospitalizations.
However, even as the number of cases increased, the rate of death from pancreatitis decreased during that time from 13 children out of every 1,000 cases of acute pancreatitis to almost eight children out of every 1,000 cases.
The authors noted that this decrease implies that care of children with acute pancreatitis has improved over the past decade.
Compared to all other children admitted to the hospital, those with acute pancreatitis had a lower risk of dying — about 14 percent lower odds — but a longer length of stay.
Yet the median length of stay in the hospital also decreased by one day, from five days to four days, during the years studied.
The cost for treatment during that decade increased from a median $14,956 in 2000 to a median $22,663 in 2009.
Yet that increase needs to be placed in perspectives, according to Adam Powell, PhD, a health economist and President of Payer+Provider Syndicate
"Due to inflation, $14,956 in 2000 would be worth roughly $18,600 in 2009," Dr. Powell said. "Charges related to acute pancreatitis were $22,663, so they increased a bit faster than inflation, but not as fast as it otherwise would appear."
He also noted that charges are not the same as payments.
"Insurers typically only pay a fraction of the amount billed. The fraction paid can change over time, and potentially could have done so for this population," he said.
"Thus, while charges increased, without further information, it is unclear if the amount paid to treat individual acute pancreatitis patients increased," Dr. Powell added.
Children aged 6 and older were almost three times more likely to experience acute pancreatitis compared to younger children.
The most common disease to accompany acute pancreatitis in the study was "hepatobiliary disease," which refers to a group of diseases that affect the liver.
The researchers were not able to learn about what the reasons for the increase in pancreatitis might be, but they did state that it is likely a true increase rather than improved awareness and identification by doctors.
This study was published May 7 in the journal PLOS ONE. The research did not use external funding, and the authors reported no conflicts of interest.