The pancreas is located in the abdominal area behind the stomach. It's about six to eight inches long, composed of thin tubes that come together, and makes a single opening to the intestine. The pancreas serves two basic functions. The first is to produce enzymes that flow into the intestine. Once in the intestine, the enzymes mix with the food to help break down fat, carbohydrates and protein so the intestine can absorb them. The pancreas also produces insulin that helps control the body's glucose and blood sugar levels. There are various pancreatic infections and diseases one can contract. Depending on the type of illness the symptoms may vary.
When the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas die off, the body does not get the insulin it needs and diabetes can occur. People who don't produce enough insulin require daily injections of insulin. In other people, the pancreas may produce too much insulin. People with high glucose levels may see changes in their kidneys, eyes, legs, heart and nerves. For both forms of diabetes, symptoms can include vomiting, nausea, fatigue or blurred vision. Blood sugar levels can be tested for the proper level of insulin.
Acute pancreatitis is a condition that occurs when the pancreas becomes severely inflamed. This can happen quickly. There are various causes of this pancreatic infection, including large consumption of alcohol, drugs, gallbladder disease, gallstones, trauma and triglycerides (high blood fat.) People who are suffering from acute pancreatitis may experience severe pain in the upper abdominal area that is frequently accompanied by vomiting and fever.
Chronic pancreatitis is seen mainly in alcoholics. It can occur in people who frequently binge drink as well. The symptoms for this pancreatic infection are slightly different than those of acute pancreatitis. People suffering from chronic pancreatitis will experience recurrent, dull or moderate pain in the upper abdomen. This normally will occur when eating or drinking and sometimes fades as the disease progresses. Other symptoms include vomiting, nausea, weight loss and fatty stools.
Pancreatic Enzyme Insufficiency
The pancreas makes enzymes that are essential to breaking down protein, fat and carbohydrates in the food. A pancreatic enzyme insufficiency can occur due to infection, pancreatitis or trauma. When the pancreas doesn't make enough enzymes, malnutrition can result.
Like with other organs in the body, the pancreas can develop tumors. A tumor can be benign and not cause any health issues at all. However, it can also create problems if it secrete hormones. The tumor can cause insulin to be secreted in excessive amounts, resulting in hypoglycemia. Other hormones from a tumor can cause recurrent stomach ulcers. Some symptoms can include low blood sugar, weakness, trembling and heart palpitations.
If the pancreas develops a tumor that is cancerous, the results can be disastrous. Often the symptoms of pancreatic cancer are wrongly attributed to other ailments, and by the time the doctor is aware of the cancer it has often spread to other areas of the body. Pancreatic cancer is also resistant to medical treatment, making surgery the only option. The symptoms of pancreatic cancer include dull pain in the upper abdomen that may radiate to the back, jaundice can occur if the tube that carries bile from the liver is blocked, and weight loss associated with loss of appetite, diarrhea and bloating.