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Overview of Pancreatitis

By

Michael Bartel

, MD, PhD, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Temple University

Last full review/revision Sep 2020| Content last modified Sep 2020
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Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas.

The pancreas Pancreas The pancreas is an organ that contains two types of glandular tissue: Pancreatic acini Islets of Langerhans (See also Overview of the Digestive System.) The acini produce digestive enzymes.... read more Pancreas is a leaf-shaped organ about 5 inches (about 13 centimeters) long. It is surrounded by the lower edge of the stomach and the first portion of the small intestine (duodenum).

Locating the Pancreas

Locating the Pancreas

The pancreas has three major functions:

  • To secrete fluid containing digestive enzymes into the duodenum

  • To secrete the hormones insulin and glucagon, which help regulate sugar levels in the bloodstream

  • To secrete into the duodenum the large quantities of sodium bicarbonate (the chemical in baking soda) needed to neutralize the acid coming from the stomach

Pancreatitis most commonly causes severe pain in the upper abdomen that is often accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Pancreatitis may cause permanent damage to the pancreas.

People who have acute pancreatitis typically need to be hospitalized for a period of time and may require a lot of fluids given by vein (intravenously) until they feel better and are pain free.

People who have chronic pancreatitis sometimes need to take capsules of pancreatic enzyme extracts with meals to help relieve pain and improve digestion.

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