The pancreas is the organ positioned behind the stomach in the upper part of the abdomen. As the body's main digestive organ, the pancreas is composed of different cells that serve distinct functions.
Some cells produce digestive enzymes, while others produce hormones. Food that passes through the duodenum stimulates the pancreas to produce digestive enzymes.
The most important hormone the pancreas produces is insulin, which controls the amount of glucose in our bloodstream. When an insufficient amount of insulin is secreted, the body's cells are unable to take in glucose, which raises glucose levels in the bloodstream and may ultimately lead to diabetes. In addition to insulin, the pancreas produces other hormones, all of which pass into the blood.
Pancreatitis is the most common pancreatic condition. It is categorized as either acute and chronic. Acute pancreatitis causes the pancreas to suddenly become swollen and releases digestive enzymes into the bloodstream. Acute pancreatitis can cause pain, fever, shortness of breath or kidney problems. In rare cases death may result from infection, respiratory failure, bleeding or other complications.
Chronic pancreatitis is characterized by persistent abdominal pain, nausea, and intolerance of food. Chronic pancreatitis can affect the ability of the pancreas to produce digestive enzymes and hormones, which can lead to diabetes. Pancreatic cancer is the most fatal of all cancers. Most pancreatic cancer patients have minimal or no symptoms until the later, less curable stages. The symptoms that appear are usually the same as those for chronic pancreatitis.