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Surgery possible for Ashcroft

Attorney general's schedule canceled for the week

  • 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.

    Mayo Clinic
    John Ashcroft
    Justice Department

    WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft could undergo surgery Tuesday as part of his treatment for gallstone pancreatitis, CNN learned Monday.

    The Justice Department would not comment.

    Sources familiar with Ashcroft's case said the decision to operate would be made Tuesday after doctors review his condition.

    Ashcroft remains in the intensive care unit of George Washington University Hospital as doctors treat the inflammation of his pancreas.

    While officials have refused to provide specifics on his condition, they have characterized it as a serious case of gallstone pancreatitis.

    The illness can be caused when gallstones travel into the bile duct and create a blockage. The condition causes a patient a lot of pain.

    The sources would not describe the nature of the surgery Ashcroft could undergo.

    Doctors expert in treating the disease say it is common to have surgery to remove the gallbladder as a way to prevent a recurrence.

    It is also possible to remove the gallstone that is usually stuck in the patient's bile duct, blocking pancreatic enzymes. In most cases, though, doctors said the stone passes naturally.

    Aides said the attorney general, 61, continues to receive medication for pain and antibiotics to fight an infection in his pancreas.

    Ashcroft's planned testimony before two congressional appropriations committees this week will be re-scheduled, and officials canceled his other planned activities for the week.

    After complaining of stomach pain Thursday night, Ashcroft went to the emergency room at the hospital, and doctors later admitted him into the intensive care unit.

    CNN's Terry Frieden and Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.

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