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Gallstone Ailment Hospitalizes Ashcroft

March 06, 2004|Richard B. Schmitt | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft was hospitalized in intensive care Friday, suffering from a painful but treatable abdominal condition that aides said would keep him there at least several days.

Ashcroft, 61, was admitted to George Washington University Hospital on Thursday night and diagnosed with "a severe case" of gallstone pancreatitis, the Justice Department said.

The condition develops when a gallstone blocks a passage leading from the pancreas to the small intestine, and the pancreas becomes inflamed. The problem usually clears up in a week, although it can sometimes require surgery and, in rare cases, can lead to complications and even death.

Ashcroft, who has had no known health problems in recent years, canceled plans Thursday to announce verdicts from a terrorism trial in Alexandria, Va., and went home, thinking he had the stomach flu. When his condition worsened, he was visited by White House physician Daniel Parks and taken to the hospital emergency room.

"After a full medical work-up in the emergency room, it was determined that he was suffering from a severe case of gallstone pancreatitis," Mark Corallo, a Justice Department spokesman, said in a prepared statement. "He was admitted to intensive care for careful monitoring and is being treated with antibiotics."

The condition, experts said, is typically resolved within a week after treatment, which includes fasting to give the digestive system a break, along with intravenous fluids.

The gallstone -- formed from a buildup of bile and other chemicals in the gallbladder -- often passes naturally but in some instances has to be removed surgically or through an endoscopic procedure.

If the stone remains lodged too long, it can cause damage to the pancreas itself, which can lead to tissue loss and other complications.

Many people with the condition end up having their gallbladder, which stores and regulates bile used in the digestive process, removed.

"It is life-disturbing. It hurts like the dickens. I have had ladies saying that bearing children was nothing compared with this," said M. Stanley Branch, an expert in pancreatic and biliary disorders at Duke University Medical Center. "He was pretty tough if he thought it was just a stomach flu."

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