Pancreas: Functions and disorders

The pancreas is a gland organ. It is located in the abdomen. It is part of the digestive system and produces insulin and other important enzymes and hormones that help break down foods.

The pancreas has an endocrine function because it releases juices directly into the bloodstream, and it has an exocrine function because it releases juices into ducts.

Enzymes, or digestive juices, are secreted by the pancreas into the small intestine. There, it continues breaking down food that has left the stomach.

The pancreas also produces the hormone insulin and secretes it into the bloodstream, where it regulates the body’s glucose or sugar level. Problems with insulin control can lead to diabetes.

Other possible health problems include pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.

Fast facts on the pancreas

Here are some key points about the pancreas. More detail is in the main article.

The pancreas is a gland organ with a key role in digestion and glucose control.

Problems related to the pancreas include diabetes and cancer.

A healthful diet can contribute to maintaining a healthy pancreas.

Features

[pancreas]
The pancreas is located in the abdomen and plays an important role in digestion.

The pancreas is an organ 6 to 8 inches long. It extends horizontally across the abdomen.

The largest part lays on the right side of the abdomen where the stomach attaches to the first part of the small intestine, the duodenum.

At this point, the partially digested food passes from the stomach into the small intestine, and it mixes with the secretions from the pancreas.

The narrow part of the pancreas extends to the left side of the abdomen next to the spleen.

A duct runs the length of the pancreas, and it is joined by several small branches from the glandular tissue. The end of this duct is connected to a similar duct that comes from the liver, which delivers bile to the duodenum.

Around 95 percent of the pancreas is exocrine tissue. It produces pancreatic enzymes to aid digestion. A healthy pancreas makes about 2.2 pints (1 liter) of these enzymes every day.

The remaining 5 percent comprises hundreds of thousands of endocrine cells known as islets of Langerhans. These grape-like cell clusters produce important hormones that regulate pancreatic secretions and control blood sugar.

[pancreatitis]
A flareup in pancreatitis can cause abdominal pain.

Pancreatitis refers to an acute or chronic inflammation of the pancreas. It can lead to secondary diabetes.

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