Pancreatitis is an infection or inflammation of the pancreas, an endocrine organ. It sits just behind the stomach in the abdomen and has a duct that connects to the common bile duct which empties into the duodenum. The pancreas is both an endocrine and an exocrine gland. The exocrine gland function produces enzymes that are important for digestion of proteins. These enzymes are released into the pancreatic duct and exit into the duodenum. The endocrine gland function produces the hormones, insulin and glucagon, which are important to help the body regulate blood sugars. These hormones are released directly into the blood stream to produce their actions on the body’s cells.
Pancreatitis can develop in several ways. Occasionally, gallbladder stones can get out into the common bile duct and will travel down to the junction of the common bile duct and pancreatic duct. If the stone becomes trapped in the duct it can cause the pancreatic enzymes released into the duct to back up and cause damage to the pancreas. There are also viruses that can infect the pancreas and cause inflammation and damage to the pancreas. Heavy alcohol consumption and pancreatic cancer can also cause pancreatitis.
Treatment of pancreatitis is generally bowel rest and intravenous feeding to reduce the production of pancreatic enzymes which allows the pancreas to heal. More severe infections or frequent infections can lead to pseudo cysts, pockets of fluid in the pancreas that can affect the function of the pancreas and may require surgical excision.
If the pancreas were to become damaged severely enough that it could no longer produce insulin, then Diabetes would result. This is the mechanism that leads to the development of adult onset type I diabetes.