The pancreas is an organ located in the abdomen. It plays an essential role in converting the food we eat into fuel for the body’s cells. The pancreas has two main functions: an exocrine function that helps in digestion and an endocrine function that regulates blood sugar. Basic Anatomy: The pancreas is located behind the stomach and is surrounded by other organs including the small intestine, liver, and spleen. It is about six inches long and is shaped like a flat pear. The wide part, called the head of the pancreas, is positioned toward the center of the abdomen; the middle section is called the neck and the body of the pancreas; the thin end is called the tail and extends to the left side. Several major blood vessels surround the pancreas, the superior mesenteric artery, the superior mesenteric vein, the portal vein and the celiac axis, supplying blood to the pancreas and other abdominal organs. Exocrine Function: The pancreas contains exocrine glands that produce enzymes important to digestion. When food enters the stomach, these pancreatic juices are released into a system of ducts that culminate in the main pancreatic duct. The pancreatic duct joins the common bile duct to form the ampulla of Vater which is located at the first portion of the small intestine, called the duodenum. The common bile duct originates in the liver and the gallbladder and produces another important digestive juice called bile. The pancreatic juices and bile that are released into the duodenum, help the body to digest fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Endocrine Function: The endocrine component of the pancreas consists of islet cells that create and release important hormones directly into the bloodstream. Two of the main pancreatic hormones are insulin, which acts to lower blood sugar, and glucagon, which acts to raise blood sugar. Maintaining proper blood sugar levels is crucial to the functioning of key organs including the brain, liver, and kidneys.
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