Location of the pancreas

The pancreas is a long gland that sits behind the stomach and under the liver. It is about 25 cm long and is connected to the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine) by a small duct.

Functions/Roles of the pancreas

The pancreas is an endocrine and exocrine gland. An exocrine gland is an organ that makes and releases chemicals into ducts, rather than into the blood stream like endocrine glands.

As an endocrine gland, the main function of the pancreas is to make hormones that control blood sugar levels. These hormones are made in clusters of cells called ‘islets of Langerhans’.

Keeping blood sugar levels stable is important to provide a constant energy supply to the body. Low blood sugar levels can cause sweating, shaking, mood changes, confusion and in severe cases seizures and loss of consciousness. Persistently high blood sugar levels are a feature of diabetes mellitus.

The remaining area of the pancreas has exocrine functions, producing chemicals (enzymes) that help digest food. These enzymes are transported through a small duct from the pancreas to the small intestine. These enzymes help break down proteins, carbohydrates and fats in food.

Hormones produced by the pancreas

Keeping pancreatic hormones in balance

Insulin

Insulin is released from the pancreas when blood sugar (glucose) levels rise after a meal. Insulin causes glucose to move out of the blood into cells of the body, resulting in a fall in blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels return to normal, the pancreas stops making insulin.

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Glucagon

Glucagon is released from the pancreas when blood sugar (glucose) levels fall too low. When blood sugar levels return to normal, the pancreas stops making glucagon. Glucagon is also released in response to adrenaline.

Somatostatin

Somatostatin blocks the production of insulin and glucagon to help regulate blood sugar levels. Somatostatin increases when either glucagon or insulin levels get too high.

Common Problems / Disorders of the Pancreas

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Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus

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Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus

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Gestational Diabetes

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Pre-diabetes

(Impaired glucose tolerance or Impaired fasting glucose)

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Hyperglycaemia

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Hypoglycaemia

Page last reviewed on 3 Feb 2019