What is the pancreas?
The pancreas is a narrow, flat organ about six inches long, with head, middle, and tail sections. It is located below the liver, between the stomach and the spine, and its head section connects to the duodenum. Inside the pancreas, small ducts (tubes) feed fluids produced by the pancreas into the larger pancreatic duct. This larger duct carries the fluids down the length of the pancreas, from the tail to the head, and into the duodenum. The common bile duct also runs through the head section of the pancreas, carrying bile from the liver and gallbladder into the small intestine. The bile duct and the pancreatic duct usually join just before entering the duodenum and so have a common opening into the small intestine.
The pancreas consists of two kinds of tissues:
- Exocrine -- which make powerful enzymes to digest fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. The enzymes normally are produced and carried in an inactive form to the duodenum where activation occurs as needed. Exocrine tissues also make and secrete bicarbonates that work to neutralize stomach acids thereby allowing for the activation of the pancreatic enzymes.
- Endocrine -- which produce the hormones insulin and glucagon and release them into the blood stream. These hormones regulate glucose transport into the body's cells and are crucial for maintaining normal glucose levels and energy production.