Everyone knows the great importance of the pancreas for the proper functioning of the human body. In this article we give you an in-depth understanding of the function of the pancreas and the problems that can lead to improper functioning, or bad habits adopted by us.
What is the pancreas?
Before starting with anything else, it is important to properly explain what the pancreas is , because many people do not even know where it is in the body. So let’s stop for a moment to talk about him.
The first thing to say about the pancreas is that it is an organ found in the abdomen. Its role is to act as a mediator and regulator of the vast majority of the life processes of the organism , both directly and indirectly.
Due to its secretory capacity, it is considered a glandular organ, and it fulfills a double role. On the one hand, the exocrine system is responsible for secreting digestive enzymes , while the endocrine system is responsible for secreting hormones that help regulate the interior of the body.
This organ has a size of about twenty centimeters in adults, a conical shape, and four well-differentiated parts , which are the head, neck, body and tail. Together with the liver and the gallbladder, they are responsible for organizing and regulating digestive processes and obtaining nutrients.
We have already seen that the pancreas secretes digestive enzymes and regulating hormones. Now, let’s see a little more in depth how they work and what these enzymes and hormones are for.
For the exocrine part , we can say that different digestive enzymes are secreted , such as amylase, ribonuclease, lipase or others. These enzymes go to the duodenum, located in the small intestine, through the Wirsung duct.
Once there, they are responsible for breaking down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates so that the body can keep the nutrients it needs to keep the body’s metabolism in optimal condition.
Therefore, you can imagine that these exocrine functions of the pancreas are essential for humans.
Then we have the endocrine part , which secretes hormones that are conducted directly into the bloodstream . The hormones secreted by the pancreas are quite well known, and among them are insulin or glucagon, which regulate the level of sugar in the blood.
As you probably already know, the pancreas secretes insulin when blood glucose levels are too high. Thus, insulin forms glycogen, which lowers the level of glucose in the blood.
For its part, glucagon is secreted for the opposite purpose. That is, its goal is to break down glycogen so that glucose is formed and increase blood sugar levels. As you can see, the pancreas plays a fundamental role in regulating blood sugar levels, achieving stable levels that allow the body to function properly.
However, they are not the only hormones that are made in the pancreas . Others are also secreted, such as somatosin (responsible for helping digestion), ghrelin (which makes us feel hungry), and gastrin (which produces all kinds of stomach acids).
Despite being in charge of so many functions, the truth is that the way the pancreas operates is quite simple. Simply, the pancreatic cells produce the molecules that will be secreted, and that will be deposited in the main pancreatic duct or in the blood stream.
That it has such a simple operation is not always positive. By having such a decisive role in the functioning of the body, but such a simple operation, any problem related to the malfunction of the pancreas can be devastating.
Of course, as in any other organ of the body, some of the problems that may appear can have simple solutions. However, other problems can be really serious and difficult to solve (in some cases, with no viable solution).
Possible problems with the functions of the pancreas
Now, let’s look at some of the problems that can appear in the pancreas . As you have already seen, the pancreas must be cared for, and it should not be taken lightly, even if it is not as well known an organ as others. Therefore, it is useful to know what their common problems are.
Here I mention some of them, as well as their symptoms and some information about it. However, keep in mind that these are not all the problems that can be suffered related to the pancreas, and that you should not be guided only by this information, but you should go to the doctor.
1. Acute pancreatitis : Acute pancreatitis can be fatal if it is not treated right away. In addition, its symptoms (very painful) can be confused with peritonitis , which makes its diagnosis quite complicated.
2. Chronic pancreatitis : In chronic pancreatitis, the pancreas becomes inflamed due to a poor release of the enzymes that the pancreas itself generates. This often leads to diarrhea and weight loss.
3. Pancreatic cancer : About what cancer is, I don’t think there is much to tell. We all know more or less what it is and why it occurs. The thing to mention here is that pancreatic cancer is one of the worst that a human being can suffer. Add to that the fact that it is difficult to detect in the early stages.
Some of the symptoms that appear are yellowing of the skin, pain in the back and abdomen, and weight loss. Added to this is the problem that tumors cannot be detected through routine examinations, but rather scanners are needed.
This leads to it taking a long time to detect, and as a result, it becomes difficult to treat. As with other cancers, it is treated with radiation, chemotherapy and, in some cases, surgery.
It goes without saying that habits such as smoking or alcohol consumption are factors that contribute to the appearance of this disease (which is one of the main causes of death in developed countries).
4. Type I diabetes : This is one of the most common diseases that affect the pancreas, and consists of the inability of the pancreas to generate the insulin that the body needs, which prevents the proper regulation of glucose in the blood, as we have been able to see above.
However, these days, people with this type of diabetes can lead very normal lives. Simply monitor your blood glucose levels regularly and inject, when necessary (and daily), doses of synthetic insulin.
5. Type II diabetes: Type II diabetes is similar to the previous one. The body is capable of generating insulin, but it does not secrete it in sufficient quantities, so that blood glucose imbalances are maintained. It is treated in a similar way to the previous one.
6. Insulinoma : An insulinoma is a tumor in the pancreas that produces an uncontrolled excess amount of insulin. That is, you can have a good blood glucose level (or too low), and the pancreas continue to generate insulin.
As you can imagine, this leads to blood glucose levels being always too low, which implies a constant lack of energy, hunger, tiredness and anxiety. However, it can go further, because you can suffer an insulin shock that, in extreme cases, can lead to death.
7. Annular pancreas: The annular pancreas is a congenital disease, which consists of having a ring surrounding the junction between the pancreas and the duodenum. When this ring is compressed, it presses on the small intestine and causes problems in proper digestion (since it prevents the passage of food through the small intestine.
This ring can form for different reasons, but the most common is that, during pregnancy, there is an excess of amniotic fluid. It is also common in the symptomatic picture of people with Down syndrome.
8. Pancreatic abscess : It is an infection caused by pancreatic pseudocysts (which we will talk about below), and which causes abdominal pain, lack of appetite, fever and nausea. They are not more complex because they can be drained with little difficulty.
9. Pancreatic pseudocysts : A pancreatic pseudocyst is a deposit of abdominal fluid, which, in addition, may contain hormones or enzymes generated by the pancreas itself, as well as blood and part of the pancreatic tissue. Normally, these pseudocysts appear after having suffered pancreatitis.
The most common symptom is stabbing pain, which usually extends to the back. In addition, digestion is also hampered. However, as in the previous case, it is not an excessively serious problem, since they can be drained without difficulty.
10. Zollinger-Ellison syndrome: This syndrome involves an excessive generation of gastrin (a hormone secreted by the pancreas). Most of the time, this is due to a gastrinoma, which is a small tumor located in the pancreas.
It should be mentioned that these small tumors are usually malignant, so it is advisable to have them controlled and, in the case of detecting them, to remove them as soon as possible, to avoid that they end up leading to pancreatic cancer.
These tumors can travel to other organs, causing general damage. With regard to the symptoms, they are very generic (diarrhea, abdominal pain, etc.), so their detection is especially difficult.
11. Pancreas divisum : This congenital defect implies that some parts of the pancreas are not able to fuse. It is a fairly common problem. In fact, it is the most common congenital problem related to the pancreas, and, in most cases, it does not involve any problem. It is normal to suffer from it and go unnoticed.
The cause of this congenital defect is unknown, but it is known that, during the formation process in the maternal uterus, it is normal for the pancreas to be divided and, later, to join. This does not happen in people with pancreas divisum.
12. Macroamylasemia : This disease is quite rare, and it is caused by the presence of macroamylase in the blood (macroamylase is an enzyme generated by the pancreas). It is often confused with acute pancreatitis, but if detected, it does not pose major problems.
Thus, we can only affirm that, in an organ so important for the functioning of the body, such as the pancreas, there are a large number of conditions that can generate more or less serious problems.
It must also be taken into account that, as in other cases, suffering from one of these ailments and not treating it can end up leading to more serious ailments and diseases, so it is advisable to be careful and pay attention to the symptoms that are suffered.
Another aspect to keep in mind, after having seen all the previous problems, is that detecting these types of problems is usually quite difficult and problematic, because the symptoms are very similar in different diseases , and it is not easy to detect serious problems in examinations routine.
As always, we must be careful with the habits we maintain to ensure that the pancreas is healthy. Avoiding smoking and excess alcohol is of great help, and having a balanced diet helps the pancreas not suffer more than necessary and end up developing some of the problems that we have mentioned above.
Finally, it should be remembered that, after a certain age, the wear and tear of the body ends up leading to all of us being at risk of suffering from pancreatic diseases. Therefore, with the passage of time, it is advisable that we carry out checks to avoid any possible problem.
As you have seen in this article, the pancreas is a very important organ despite having a simple operation . There are a large number of diseases that can alter the function of the pancreas, so it is advisable to have healthy habits.
Hello Readers, I am Nikki Bella a Psychology student. I have always been concerned about human behavior and the mental processes that lead us to act and think the way we do. My collaboration as an editor in the psychology area of Well Being Pole has allowed me to investigate further and expand my knowledge in the field of mental health; I have also acquired great knowledge about physical health and well-being, two fundamental bases that are directly related and are part of all mental health.