Chronic Pancreatitis Can Cause Diabetes

The pancreas is a gland organ located in the abdomen between the stomach and the spine.  The pancreas has two functions: hormone production as an endocrine gland and digestive enzyme production as an exocrine gland.

Endocrine
As part of the endocrine system, the pancreas produces several hormones that are used inside the body tissues including insulin and glucagon which both act to regulate blood sugar or glucose levels.  Insulin lowers glucose by helping cells access the sugar for energy.  Glucagon raises blood sugar by triggering the liver to release stored glucose.   The pancreas contains clusters of different types of cells to produce the various hormones.  Alpha cells secrete glucagon.  Beta cells secrete insulin.  These hormones are passed directly from the pancreas into the bloodstream.

Exocrine
As an exocrine gland, PP cells in the pancreas secrete fluid known as pancreatic juice.  This is an alkaline fluid which contains enzymes that are a crucial factor in digestion in the small intestine.  Digestive enzymes are carried by the pancreatic duct from the pancreas into the bile duct, where it joins bile from the liver on its way to the top of the small intestine, which is known as the duodenum.

Pancreatitis
Pancreatitis is a condition that develops due to inflammation of the pancreas.  Normally, digestive enzymes produced in the pancreas become active when they reach the small intestine.  But when the pancreas becomes inflamed, the digestive enzymes become active while they are still inside the pancreas, which can cause damage to pancreatic tissue.

Acute pancreatitis is a short-term condition that develops quickly and resolves in a few days.  Chronic pancreatitis is a long-term condition that gets worse over time and can cause permanent damage to the cells and tissues of the pancreas.  When digestive enzymes attack pancreatic cells, digestion can be affected which can cause nausea, vomiting, and other digestive complications.  In more advanced pancreatitis, digestive enzymes can destroy beta cells that produce insulin which can lead to diabetes.

Chronic and acute pancreatitis are both more common in men than in women. Chronic pancreatitis most often develops in people between the ages of 30 and 40 years old.   Heavy alcohol use is the most common cause of chronic pancreatitis.

Other causes include:

  • Hereditary disorders
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • High calcium in the blood
  • High fat levels in the blood
  • Certain medications

 

Sources:

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Pancreatitis. Web. March 18, 2012.

http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/pancreatitis

News Medical. What Does the Pancreas Do? Web. March 18, 2012.

http://www.news-medical.net/health/What-Does-The-Pancreas-Do.aspx

Johns Hopkins Medicine. The Pancrea. Web. March 18, 2012.

http://pathology.jhu.edu/pc/BasicOverview1.php?area=ba

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