The symptoms of the diseased pancreas include:
- Abdominal pain
- Diarrhea or oily stools
- Weight loss
- Chronic abdominal pain
- Increased blood sugar level
- Painless jaundice (yellowish discoloration of the skin)
- Rapid pulse
- Excessive urination
- Blurred vision
Pain in the upper abdomen is the most common symptom. It spreads to the back and worsens while eating and drinking. Sometimes, the diseases of the pancreas may produce a few symptoms or no symptoms at all. Pancreatic cancer is difficult to diagnose in the early stages due to the lack of symptoms.
What is the pancreas?
The pancreas, which is about the size of a hand, is located in the abdomen, just behind the stomach. It is surrounded by other organs including the small intestine, liver, and spleen. The pancreas plays a vital role in converting the food into the energy essential for the body. It mainly consists of two functions: an exocrine function that helps in digestion and an endocrine function that controls blood sugar levels. Because of the deep location of the pancreas, tumors of the pancreas may be difficult to locate.
The exocrine pancreas produces natural juices called pancreatic enzymes to break down food. These enzymes travel via tubes or ducts to reach the duodenum. The pancreas makes about eight ounces of digestive juice filled with enzymes every day. The different enzymes are:
- Lipase: Along with bile, these enzymes break down fats. Poor absorption of fat leads to diarrhea and fatty bowel movements.
- Protease: It breaks down protein in the food.
- Amylase: It helps to break down starch into sugar, which is then converted to energy to meet the body’s demand. Undigested carbohydrates can cause diarrhea.
Unlike enzymes, hormones are released directly into the bloodstream. Pancreatic hormones include:
- Insulin: This hormone is produced in the beta cells of the pancreas and helps the body to use sugar for energy. Lack of insulin can increase the blood sugar levels in the blood and then develop diabetes.
- Glucagon: Alpha cells produce the hormone glucagon. If blood sugar gets too low, glucagon helps to raise it by sending a message to the liver to release the stored sugar.
- Gastrin and amylin: Gastrin helps the stomach to make gastric acid whereas amylin helps to control appetite and stomach emptying.
What to do if your pancreas is not working properly?
If you observe any symptoms of the diseased pancreas, consulting a specialist is important. Pancreatic dysfunction can be debilitating.
Treatment of pancreatitis include:
- Administering intravenous fluid
- Medication for pain
- Surgical removal of gallstones or gallbladder
Treatment of pancreatic cancer include:
Therapeutic endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) may be used by the physician to:
- Enlarge duct opening
- Remove pancreatic or bile duct stones
- Dilate the narrowed pancreatic or bile duct
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