Pancreas: Essential points ought to be known

Pancreas: General 

Vertebrates are animals with backbones. Pancreas is an important organ found in the bodies of human beings and  vertebrates.  Pancreas resembles a thermos lying on its side. It has  a size of about 6 inches in length, 1.5 inches in width and 1 inch in thickness. Pancreas lies across the abdomen behind the stomach.  It joins to the small intestine behind the stomach.

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Pancreas: Major functions

Pancreas is a major  player of the digestive system. It plays a key role in digestion and absorption of macronutrients essential for living. In another way, generation of fuel for body is controlled by pancreas.

The pancreas 

•    Produces hormones, insulin and glucagon. Glucagon converts glycogen to glucose to maintain sugar level in the blood. Insulin decreases blood sugar when it increases. Deficiency of insulin production leads to diabetes. Insulin and glucagon together as a team take care of the energy requirement of the body. 

•    Produces around 1500 ml of pancreas juice every day. The juice that contains enzymes and salts enters the small intestine. This juice is responsible for digesting proteins, starches, sugars and fats. 

Pancreas:  How is it stimulated to produce the digestive juice? 

As the food enters the mouth, the taste buds send signals or impulses to the brain. The brain sends message to pancreas for stimulation and generation of the juice. Brain passes this message to pancreas through vagus nerve.  The major component of the juice is Sodium Bicarbonate which is alkaline in nature. This juice neutralizes the acids with its alkaline character.

Pancreatic juice contains major enzymes like  trypsinogen, chymotrypsinogen,  elastase, carboxypeptidase, pancreatic lipase, nucleases and amylase. Enzyme is responsible for the metabolic processes.  Trypsinogen is the main protein digesting enzyme. Amylase is responsible for digesting carbohydrates. Lipase takes care of fats. Digestion and subsequent assimilation of nutrients takes place in small intestine. 

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Pancreas: Major disorders.

A variety of disorders affect pancreas. Physical examination of pancreas is difficult because of the location of pancreas. Blood tests are often helpful in identification of diseases. CAT scan, MRI scan and MRCP are other adopted methods. 

Acute Pancreatitis is sudden inflammation of the pancreas. A close companion is severe upper abdominal pain. The disorder is fully curable. 

Chronic pancreatitis results in destruction of pancreas in a progressive manner. This is most commonly observed in men, mainly in those who consume alcohol. Patients may require insulin to control sugar. 

Hereditary pancreatitis is mainly an inherited disease. It is normally a progressive disorder leading to permanent destruction. Pancreatic enzyme replacement is the effective treatment. 

Pancreatic cancer has been showing increasing trends in recent times. In the initial stages, pancreatic cancer can be cured by surgical resection. But often early detection does not happen. It is the fourth most cause of cancer death in men and fifth most in women. 

Elizabeth Paul

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