How does cystic fibrosis (CF) affect the pancreas?

With cystic fibrosis (CF), the pancreas is unable to perform its usual role in helping food digestion.

The pancreas is an organ that sits just underneath the stomach on the left hand side of the abdomen. The pancreas makes enzymes that help break down food, which releases energy for the body to use. The pancreas also makes mucus, a watery substance that helps enzymes flow out of the pancreas and into the small intestine, where they aid digestion. The pancreas also makes insulin, a hormone that regulates the amount of glucose, a sugar that is a source of energy, in the blood.

With CF, the mucus that the pancreas makes is thick and sticky, so enzymes get stuck and cannot reach the intestine. This means food can’t be digested properly, so the body doesn’t get the energy and nutrients it needs. Also, as food is not properly digested, some people with CF have diarrhea. Sometimes, too, the pancreas is unable to make insulin. This is called CF-related diabetes, which means the body has trouble turning glucose into energy.

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