Human Anatomy – Pancreas

human-anatomy-pancreasPancreas refers to a six-inch long gland at the back of the belly, just at the rear of the stomach. This organ is made up of cells called islets, which secrete the vital enzymes insulin and glucagon. These enzymes maintain healthy levels of glucose, a kind of blood sugar.

A pancreas is linked to the duodenum or the first part of the small intestine via a tubular structure named the pancreatic duct.

People have varying sizes of pancreas. In some, the pancreas may be larger than usual. This is normal, though enlarged pancreas may signal a condition.

Pancreas diseases and conditions

A pancreas must keep producing insulin, lest diabetes wreaks havoc on the body. Among the most fearsome diseases in the world, diabetes arises from undermined pancreas. There are two types of diabetes.

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Diabetes Type 1 stems from the destruction of the pancreas’ insulin-secreting islets by the body’s own immune system. With this type of diabetes, the patient must depend on insulin therapy for life.

Diabetes Type 2 comes when the pancreas itself diminishes its ability to secrete insulin. In the long run, this kind of diabetes makes the body insulin-resistant.

Sometimes, the pancreas can become inflamed due to its own digestive substances. This condition, called pancreatitis, leads to necrosis in the pancreatic tissues. Excessive drinking and gallstones may be to blame.

Pancreatitis helps form pseudocysts, pancreatic lesions filled with fluid. Surgery is needed to remove them.

Pseudocysts aside, tumors are also known to form on the pancreas. They are known to release a surfeit of hormones into the bloodstream. The tumor may be benign but it can also be cancerous, especially one that forms on the lining of the pancreatic duct. Cancer of the pancreas is often diagnosed in its latter stages because it initially exhibits few symptoms.

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited pancreatic condition. It is known to affect the respiratory system and progress into diabetes.

Treating pancreas conditions

In many diabetic patients, insulin injections are needed to limit sugar in blood to healthy levels. Usually administered under the skin, insulin for injections are made in laboratories or sourced from animals.

Type 1 diabetes patients can have islet cells transplanted from a donor’s pancreas. Many oncologists claim this measure offers a potential cure for this type of diabetes. But if his or her pancreas is too damaged for islet cell transplants, the patient may opt for an entire organ instead.

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There is a universal surgical procedure designed to deal with pancreatic cancer. Called Whipple procedure, this procedure involves the resectioning of not only the pancreas, but also the duodenum and the gallbladder. In fact, a section of the stomach may also be taken out.

Draining pseudocysts, on the other hand, is done by pricking the pseudocyst with a special needle. Alternatively, a stent may be fitted between the lesion and either the small intestine or the stomach. To remove pseudocysts altogether, surgery is in order.

Sufferers of cystic fibrosis should take in pancreatic enzymes to compensate for impaired pancreas function. These enzymes are often available as oral drugs in the market.

Tests for pancreas conditions

Generally, blood tests can detect diabetes. Doctors also use blood tests to check the enzymes known as amylase and lipase, high levels of which mean pancreatitis.

Sweat chloride test is indicated for patients suspected of cystic fibrosis. In this test, the doctor passes the patient through an innocuous electric current, which force the skin to perspire. The doctor then sees if the sweat has high levels of chloride, which suggest cystic fibrosis.

Genetic tests can single out family members likely to develop cystic fibrosis. As a healthy lifestyle tip, such genetic tests should be done regularly for people whose families run a high risk for the disorder.

A doctor conducts physical exams to check for outward symptoms of pancreatic conditions like cancer. Otherwise, he or she should rely on technologies like CT scans, MRIs, ERCPs and ultrasound to make a proper diagnosis.

In a CT (computed tomography scan), the doctor takes a series of X-ray images of the pancreas, which are then collated in a computer. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) entails magnetic waves to form photos of the pancreas while an ultrasound depends on its namesake sound waves. Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) uses an endoscope to see the affected area of the organ at close range.

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