The pancreas is an essential organ in humans that without it we cannot live.
The pancreas has two known functions. These are an endocrine function and an exocrine function. The endocrine function of the pancreas is especially important in a clinical condition that is called diabetes mellitus.
In this condition the pancreas is unable to synthesize insulin in sufficient amounts in order to convert glucose into glycogen. This condition can lead to several clinical symptoms such as glucoseurea.
The two hormones that are secreted by the endocrine pancreas are insulin and glucagon. These two hormones are antagonists to each other, namely, they have opposite functions.
Insulin functions by converting glucose into its polymer glycogen. The synthesis of insulin is stimulated by excessive amount of glucose in the blood.
The antagonist to insulin is called glucagon. Glucagon functions by degrading glycogen into its constituent molecules the glucose. Its action is stimulated by a deficiency of glucose in the blood.
Diabetes mellitus is divided into two types: Type I and Type II diabetes mellitus. Type I diabetes is less common that type II. Type I diabetes mellitus is caused by deficiency in the synthesis of insulin by the islet cells of the pancreas.
Type II diabetes mellitus is caused on the other hand not by a deficiency of insulin but by a lack of sensitivity of insulin receptors on the cells. Diabetes mellitus can eventually lead to death due to the complications it has such as atherosclerosis and kidney failure and blindness.
Glucose in diabetic patients cannot penetrate inside the cell which is then used for glycolysis. Insulin facilitates the penetration of glucose inside the cell.
The exocrine pancreas secretes several enzymes in inactive form which when activated in the small intestine participate in the digestion of food from the stomach. These enzymes include amylases and lipases in inactive form. In the duodenum these inactive enzymes are converted to its active form.
Lipase is an enzyme which is specific for fat digestion. Amylase is specific for carbohydrate digestion. Reflux of these activated enzymes from the duodenum to the pancreas can lead to pancreatitis due to autodigestion of the pancreatic cells.
Pancreatitis can lead to maldigestion of food in the intestine due to the lack of amylases and lipases. The lack of lipase can lead to fat in the stool or steatorhea. Pancreatitis can lead also to weight loss due to the inefficient digestion of food. In addition constipation can occur as well in this condition.
Medications which include pancreatic enzymes such as pancreatin are usually prescribed to patients that have pancreatic dysfunction.