The Pancreas: Anatomy and Functions
Anatomy of the pancreas
The pancreas is an elongated, tapered organ located across the back of the abdomen,
behind the stomach. The right side of the organ, called the head, is the widest part
of the organ. It lies in the curve of the duodenum, the first section of the small
intestine. The tapered left side extends slightly upward, called the body of the pancreas,
and ends near the spleen, called the tail.
The pancreas is made up of 2 types of glands:
Exocrine. The exocrine gland secretes digestive enzymes. These enzymes are secreted into a network
of ducts that join the main pancreatic duct. It runs the length of the pancreas.
Endocrine. The endocrine gland consists of the islets of Langerhans and secretes hormones into
Functions of the pancreas
The pancreas has digestive and hormonal functions:
The enzymes secreted by the exocrine gland in the pancreas help break down carbohydrates,
fats, proteins, and acids in the duodenum. These enzymes travel down the pancreatic
duct into the bile duct in an inactive form. When they enter the duodenum, they are
activated. The exocrine tissue also secretes a bicarbonate to neutralize stomach acid
in the duodenum.
The main hormones secreted by the endocrine gland in the pancreas are insulin and
glucagon. They regulate the level of glucose in the blood, and somatostatin, which
prevents the release of the other 2 hormones.