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Pancreas Defintion

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Updated August 02, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Definition:

The pancreas is a glandular organ that is a part of the endocrine and digestive systems. Its function is important when considering type 2 diabetes. The pancreas produces the hormones insulin and glucagon, which are secreted into the bloodstream. These hormones help regulate blood sugar levels. The pancreas also produces digestive enzymes that empty into the small intestine and help break down food, another important function when it comes to diabetes.

The pancreas lies partially behind the stomach in the abdomen and partially within the curve of the small intestine (or duodenum). Specialized cells called the Islets of Langerhans are found throughout the pancreas and are responsible for producing and secreting insulin, glucagon and somatostatin into the blood stream. Somatostatin is a growth hormone that inhibits release of insulin and glucagon.

When islet cells cannot produce insulin (or enough insulin), diabetes will develop.

  • Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed when there is no insulin production at all.
  • Type 2 diabetes is diagnosed when there is insufficient insulin produced for bodily needs or, for some reason, the body cannot use the insulin produced effectively (insulin resistance).



Sources:

Pancreatic Diseases. Lab Tests Online. Accessed: July 20, 2011 http://labtestsonline.org/understanding/conditions/pancreatic-diseases/

The Pancreas. John Hopkins Medicine. Accessed: July 21, 2011. http://pathology.jhu.edu/pc/BasicOverview1.php

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