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What are Common Pancreatic Issues?

Wednesday 10 November 2021
4 minute(s) read

Table of Contents

I. Understanding the Function of the Pancreas

II. Pancreatic Hormones & Enzymes

a. Types of Pancreatic Enzymes

b. Types of Pancreatic Hormones

III. Diagnosing Pancreatic Issues

IV. Treatment Options

Understanding the Function of the Pancreas

The majority of us do not give our pancreas much thought, but you would definitely notice if this vital organ stopped working. The pancreas is integral in the digestion process and creating essential enzymes that help break down starches, sugars, and fats. This organ is about the size of your hand and has several ducts that allow pancreatic enzymes to pass through into the rest of the body.

Along with producing pancreatic enzymes for digestion, it also makes hormones that act as chemical messengers that travel through the bloodstream. These hormones communicate with the body to regulate blood sugar levels, appetite, stimulate stomach acids, and let the stomach know when to empty. But what happens when these processes malfunction?

Several conditions can cause disruptions with pancreatic enzymes like chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, cystic fibrosis, and diabetes. If this occurs, your doctor may prescribe Creon or Viokace (pancrelipase) to regulate the pancreas and lessen symptoms. Read on to learn more about the importance and function of the pancreas. [1]

a man eating a cheeseburger

Pancreatic Hormones & Enzymes

The pancreas is located across the back of the belly, behind the stomach. The widest part of the organ is on the right side and lies in the curve of the duodenum. The duodenum is the first division of the small intestine. Exocrine and endocrine are the two types of glands that make up this organ. The endocrine gland is responsible for secreting hormones while the exocrine secretes digestive enzymes. [2]

a. Types of Pancreatic Enzymes

There are three types of pancreatic enzymes that keep the body up and running. If one is not released, you may experience several side effects. The types of enzymes include:

Lipase: This enzyme works with bile to break down fat you consume. If there is not enough lipase in the body, you will not be able to absorb fat and fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K. You may experience diarrhea and fatty bowel movements if you are deficient in lipase.

Protease: Protease is responsible for breaking down proteins in your diet. This enzyme also protects you from harmful intestinal germs. If your body cannot digest proteins correctly, you may experience allergic reaction symptoms.

Amylase: Starches are broken down by amylase and turned into sugar for energy. Diarrhea is common if your body cannot break down undigested carbohydrates.

b. Types of Pancreatic Hormones

Hormones and pancreatic enzymes work together to carry messages around your bloodstream and digestive system. The pancreas is responsible for the following hormones:

Insulin: Diabetes is a common pancreatic problem because insulin is made in the beta cells of the pancreas. Insulin provides the body with energy, so an over or underproduction of insulin can lead to type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

a spoonful of sugar with a raspberry on top

Glucagon: The alpha cells in the pancreas create glucagon if the blood sugar gets too low. Glucagon triggers the liver to release stored sugar to regulate blood glucose levels.

Gastrin & amylin: Gastrin stimulates the stomach to make gastric acid and amylin help control appetite and stomach emptying. [1]

Diagnosing Pancreatic Issues

As you can see above, the pancreas is a complicated organ with many important duties. If one hormone or enzyme is thrown off, you may experience many unpleasant symptoms that can be hard to identify. You may want to seek the help of a doctor if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Rapid pulse
  • Tender abdomen
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Oily, smelly stools
  • Low blood sugar symptoms indicative of diabetes (dizziness, sweating, blurred vision, or extreme hunger) [3]

These symptoms can mimic several conditions, so you may need several tests to determine what is going on with your body. Your doctor may order the following tests if they suspect pancreatitis or inflammation of the pancreas:

  • Blood tests to look for high levels of pancreatic enzymes and white blood cells
  • Ultrasound to look for pancreas inflammation
  • Stool tests to measure levels of fat that have not been properly absorbed by the body [3]

Treatment Options

The severity of your pancreatic condition determines the type of treatment plan you receive. The exact cause of your pancreatic issue needs to be determined or symptoms will continue. You may be prescribed pain medications and a diet change to deal with abdominal pain and ensure successful digestion.

someone holding their lower back

You may need gallbladder surgery to remove gallstones that cause your pancreatitis or an endoscopic procedure to drain excess pancreatic fluid. If it is determined that you are not producing enough digestive enzymes, you may be prescribed medications like Creon. This drug contains enzymes that help break down and digest fats, proteins, and starch. Generally, Creon is used for those with chronic pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, pancreatic cancer, and post gastrointestinal bypass surgery. [4]

Viokace works similarly to Creon but consists of an extract derived from the pancreatic glands of pigs. Viokace also contains protease and amylase, which are natural enzymes that the pancreas should normally produce. These medications are usually administered at low doses and gradually increased once your body adjusts to enzyme therapy. [5] If you want to save money on your pancreatic medications, visit Canada Pharmacy Depot today.

The content provided in this article is based on thorough research and in some cases, reviewed by a medical professional. Our goal for the information is to provide helpful, general health informational. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice.