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What is the pancreas?

The pancreas is a narrow, flat organ about 15 cm long, with a head, middle and tail section. It is located below the liver, between the stomach and the spine, and its head section connects to the duodenum (first part of the small intestine). Inside the pancreas, small ducts (tubes) feed fluids produced by the pancreas into the 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 gall bladder into the small intestine.

The pancreas consists of two kinds of tissue:

  • Exocrine which makes powerful enzymes to digest fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. The enzymes normally are created and carried to the duodenum in an inactive form, then activated as needed. Exocrine tissue also makes bicarbonate that works to neutralise stomach acids.
  • Endocrine which produces the hormones insulin and glucagon and releases them into the blood stream. These hormones regulate glucose transport into the body's cells and are crucial for energy production.

Last Review Date: November 6, 2017

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