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Ashcroft in guarded condition after surgery


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Interactive: How gallstones cause pancreatitis
FACT BOX
  • Pancreatitis often is caused by gallstones leaving the gallbladder and lodging near the pancreatic duct, obstructing the duct.
  • Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, high fever, difficulty breathing and abdominal bruises from internal bleeding.

    Source: MayoClinic.com
  • HEALTH LIBRARY
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    John Ashcroft
    Justice Department
    Pancreatitis

    WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorney General John Ashcroft was in guarded condition after having his gallbladder removed, his doctor said Tuesday.

    "Everything went as planned; he did very well," Dr. Bruce Abell told reporters at George Washington University Hospital, where he performed the 90-minute surgery, which was carried out laparoscopically -- through a small hole in the abdomen.

    Ashcroft, 61, was in the intensive care unit recovering "very nicely" from general anesthesia, the director of surgical critical care said.

    There was no sign of tissue death and no sign of infection, but Ashcroft was being given antibiotics prophylactically and painkillers, he added.

    It is typical for such patients to remain hospitalized for four or five days after surgery, Abell said, adding that he was not sure when Ashcroft would be able to return to work. Another news conference is to be held Thursday.

    The nation's top legal officer has been in intensive care at George Washington University Hospital in Washington since Thursday when he was hospitalized complaining of stomach pain.

    Doctors diagnosed him with gallstone pancreatitis, a condition in which a gallstone -- formed in the gallbladder -- blocked the duct of Ashcroft's pancreas, a gland that produces enzymes that aid in the digestion of food.

    With the enzymes trapped inside the pancreas, the gland became inflamed, causing excruciating pain.

    "His case was pretty severe," said Abell, who's been involved in treating Ashcroft since he was admitted.

    Abell said they had to wait a few days before operating to let Ashcroft's pancreas improve until he was "stable enough to withstand surgery."

    The surgeon decided to remove Ashcroft's gallbladder because it had several stones.

    "When the gallbladder isn't removed, up to 50 percent of patients have a recurrence of pancreatitis within six weeks," Abell said.

    Bile -- produced in the liver -- is stored in the gallbladder and aids in the digestion of fats in the small intestine. Gallstones are composed of cholesterol and bile salts.

    Like all people who have had their gallbladders removed, Ashcroft will have to limit his intake of fatty foods, Abell said. The surgeon said the removal of the gallbladder will ensure the condition does not recur.

    Ashcroft's planned testimony this week before two congressional appropriations committees will be rescheduled, and officials canceled his other plans for the week.

    CNN correspondent Terry Frieden contributed to this report.


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