Importance of pancreas in the human body
The pancreas is an organ that is located in the abdominal region of a human body and is a part of the digestive system of the body. It is situated in the upper left of the abdomen behind the stomach. The pancreas is about 6 inches in length.
Pancreas has 2 main functions à It helps the body digest food and it helps regulate blood sugar.
More than 95% of the pancreas’ mass is made up of cells and tissues that produce pancreatic juices containing digestive enzymes such as amylase, lipase, elastase, and nucleases.
Cluster of cells called “Islets of Langerhans” releases insulin, glucagon, and other hormones directly into the blood stream and helps in controlling blood sugar.
Pancreas performs a very important function that is crucial to the daily smooth functioning of the human body – digestion of food. Unhealthy or abnormally functioning pancreas results in a number of health conditions depending on its severity and the part affected. Some diseases related to pancreas are listed below:
1. Acute pancreatitis: In this condition, the pancreatic enzymes secreted by the organ accumulate in the organ and starts digesting the organ itself. The pancreas becomes inflamed and there is a severe bout of pain sensations that last days. The organ is swollen and the tissue lining gets eroded. This condition also has a tendency to progress over time. The most common causes are gallstones and alcohol.
2. Chronic pancreatitis: It is caused by permanent damage to the gland. Patients will develop recurrent episodes of pain and can have fatty stools (steatorrhea).
3. Diabetes – type 1: When the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are affected, the body requires external injections to fulfil its insulin requirement.
4. Diabetes – type 2: The pancreas is affected in a way that it is no longer able to adequately produce and release insulin into the body. As a result of this, the body becomes resistant to insulin and thus, gives rise to abnormal blood sugar levels in the body.
5. Cystic fibrosis: It is a genetic disorder that affects multiple body systems together, more commonly pancreas and the lungs. This gives rise to digestive problems and may lead to diabetes.
6. Pancreatic pseudo cyst: After the body has suffered an episode of pancreatitis, a cavity filled with fluid may form. This cavity is known as a pseudo cyst. Pseudo cysts may dissolve on their own over time or sometimes may require surgery for removal.
7. Pancreatic cancer: These patients usually develop pain abdomen, jaundice and weight loss. The tumour variant depends on the type of cell affected (Insulinoma / Glucagonoma/Adenocarcinoma)
Diagnosis of pancreatic diseases depends on
3.Blood investigations – Amylase / Lipase / Blood sugars etc.
4.Stool examination for fat malabsorption / Stool elastase
Treatment of pancreatic diseases depends on the problem and options include
a. Replacement of pancreatic enzymes in chronic pancreatitis
b. Insulin / OHAs (Oral hypoglycaemic agents)
a. Clearance of stone
b. Stenting to clear jaundice in patients with pancreatic cancers
c. Pseudo cyst drainage in patients with pancreatic pseudo cyst
d. Necrosectomy (removal of dead tissue) in patients with acute pancreatitis and necrosis
a. For pseudo cyst drainage or necrosis
b. For pancreatic cancers
c. For chronic pancreatitis
“Pancreatic cancer is a common and severe problem arising out of unhealthy pancreas. In many cases the problem is hereditary in nature, smoking and alcohol consumption increases the risk for development of pancreatic cancers. There are no significant symptoms or signs that the body shows to diagnose these problems early, usually these patients present when the disease is advanced. Hence it is important to keep those risk factors in check that may be responsible for causing these problems “
Inputs By Dr. Bharath Kumar. C, Consultant Gastroenterologist, Columbia Asia Hospital Sarjapur Road