The pancreas Pancreas The pancreas is an organ that contains two types of glandular tissue: Pancreatic acini Islets of Langerhans (See also Overview of the Digestive System.) The acini produce digestive enzymes.... read more is a leaf-shaped organ about 5 inches (about 13 centimeters) long. It is surrounded by the lower edge of the stomach and the first portion of the small intestine (duodenum).
The pancreas has three major functions:
To secrete fluid containing digestive enzymes into the duodenum
To secrete the hormones insulin and glucagon, which help regulate sugar levels in the bloodstream
To secrete into the duodenum the large quantities of sodium bicarbonate (the chemical in baking soda) needed to neutralize the acid coming from the stomach
Inflammation of the pancreas can be caused by gallstones Gallstones Gallstones are collections of solid material (predominantly crystals of cholesterol) in the gallbladder. The liver can secrete too much cholesterol, which is carried with bile to the gallbladder... read more , alcohol, various drugs, some viral infections, and other less common causes.
Pancreatitis usually develops quickly and subsides within a few days but can last for a few weeks. This is called acute pancreatitis Acute Pancreatitis Acute pancreatitis is sudden inflammation of the pancreas that may be mild or life threatening but usually subsides. Gallstones and alcohol abuse are the main causes of acute pancreatitis. Severe... read more . In some cases, however, inflammation persists and gradually destroys pancreatic function. This is called chronic pancreatitis Chronic Pancreatitis Chronic pancreatitis is long-standing inflammation of the pancreas that results in irreversible deterioration of the structure and function of the pancreas. Alcohol use and cigarette smoking... read more .
Pancreatitis most commonly causes severe pain in the upper abdomen that is often accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Pancreatitis may cause permanent damage to the pancreas.
People who have acute pancreatitis typically need to be hospitalized for a period of time and may require a lot of fluids given by vein (intravenously) until they feel better and are pain free.
People who have chronic pancreatitis sometimes need to take capsules of pancreatic enzyme extracts with meals to help relieve pain and improve digestion.