Your pancreas plays a part in your body's digestive system and produces several important hormones.
When your body senses food in the stomach, your nerves send signals to the pancreas to tell it to produce more digestive enzymes (chemicals) in the pancreatic juice. Inside the pancreas, acinar cells respond by increasing their production of enzymes and this is passed through the duct into the duodenum (the first part of your gut) where food begins to be broken down.
Your pancreas is also carefully monitoring the level of glucose (sugar) in your blood and keeping it balanced. Glucose is a form of energy taken from your blood into the body's cells in order for them to function properly. For this process to work, your body uses the hormones insulin and glucagon. Insulin helps to transfer the glucose and glucagon stimulates cells in the liver to release the glucose.
When blood sugar (glucose) levels are high in the blood, cells within the pancreas make more insulin in order to increase the transfer of glucose from blood to cells - lowering levels in your blood).
When blood sugar levels are high, the pancreas will make more glucagons and less insulin - resulting in the release of more glucose to the blood.
When you eat a meal, this raises your blood sugar levels and your pancreas will produce insulin to balance the system.
When the pancreas goes wrong
If your pancreas is unable to function properly, it can lead to serious complications. Potential disorders include:
People with type 1 diabetes lack insulin because the insulin-producing cells, the islets, have been destroyed by their own immune system. It is usually possible to control the condition with insulin injections. A lack of insulin causes symptoms of tiredness and frequent urinating, as well as long-term complications, such as kidney disease and eye disease.
Type 2 diabetes is more common among overweight adults and causes the pancreas to lose ability to appropriately produce and release insulin. The body also becomes resistant to insulin, and blood sugar rises.
A number of causes can be responsible for pancreatitis - where the pancreas becomes inflamed. The typical causes are gallstones and alcohol, resulting in ruptured ducts and the leaking of digestive juices. This can lead to acute pancreatitis - causing severe tummy pain that arrives suddenly - or chronic pancreatitis - where the situation has been present for many years.
Pancreatitis often requires treatment in hospital.
Cancer of the pancreas
Pancreatic cancer is when a tumour develops in the pancreas. It rarely causes any symptoms when it first develops, which can make it hard to diagnose. There are several types of cancer that arise in the pancreas and different treatments are required.
There are a number of reasons why organ transplant is not an option in cancer treatment. Cancer cells are highly likely to be elsewhere in your body and would continue to grow after a transplant. In addition, transplant patients have to take drugs to suppress their immune systems and stop them rejecting the transplanted organ. Suppressing your immune system is not a good idea if you have a cancer, as the immune system may be helping you fight it.