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What Is the Connection between the Pancreas and Duodenum?

By Meshell Powell
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The pancreas and duodenum are connected to one another by a duct system and are vital to the digestive process. As an endocrine gland, the pancreas secretes hormones and digestive enzymes that combine with other chemicals and secretions in the duodenum in order to assist with digestion. As the pancreas and duodenum are so closely intertwined, medical conditions affecting one of these structures are likely to affect the other as well. Some of the most common issues that affect both organs include pancreatic cancer, diverticula, and pancreatitis. Duodenal ulcers and infection can also cause problems for both the pancreas and duodenum.

Situated just behind the stomach, the pancreas is the largest organ belonging to the endocrine system. This gland is responsible for releasing hormones such as glucagon and insulin into the body and also produces digestive enzymes that help to break down food particles and other substances during the process of digestion. The duodenum is the shortest section of the small intestine and is connected to the pancreas by a system of ducts. Partially digested materials enter the duodenum, where they combine with digestive secretions from the pancreas and other organs to continue the digestive process.

There are several disease processes that may affect both the pancreas and duodenum. Pancreatic cancer or cancer affecting the small intestine may have negative effects on both of these structures. The cancer cells may spread to the ducts that connect the organs to one another. If the cancer cells are detected before the spread, the tumor may be able to be removed before extensive damage is done. After the cancer has spread to multiple areas, additional treatment methods, such as chemotherapy or radiation, may become necessary.

A duodenal diverticulum is a medical term used to describe the development of an abnormal pouch on the portion of the small intestine known as the duodenum. If this pouch becomes infected or if an intestinal blockage occurs, the pancreas may also be affected. Pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas, is a common complication of duodenal diverticula, although it can have other causes as well. Intestinal ulcers may also cause inflammation or infectious materials to travel to the pancreas from the duodenum. Severe abdominal pain, especially if accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or fever, should be evaluated by a doctor in order to rule out potentially serious complications related to the pancreas and duodenum.

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