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Thepancreasislocated in the midline of the back of the abdomen, closely associated with the liver, stomach, and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). The pancreas is considered a gland. A gland is an organ whose primary function is to produce chemicals that pass either into the main blood circulation (called an endocrine function), or pass into another organ (called an exocrine function). The pancreas is unusual because it has both endocrine and exocrine functions. Its endocrine function produces three hormones. Two of these hormones, insulin and glucagon, are central to the processing of sugars in the diet (carbohydrate metabolism or breakdown). The third hormone produced by the endocrine cells of the pancreas affects gastrointestinal functioning. This hormone is called vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP). The pancreas's exocrine function produces a variety of digestive enzymes (trypsin, chymotrypsin, lipase, and amylase, among others). These enzymes are passed into the duodenum through a channel called the pancreatic duct. In the duodenum, the enzymes begin the process of breaking down a variety of food components, including, proteins, fats, and starches.

Acute pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas suddenly becomes inflamed but improves. Patients recover fully from the disease, and in almost 90% of cases the symptoms disappear within about a week after treatment. The pancreas returns to its normal architecture and functioning after healing from the illness. After an attack of acute pancreatitis, tissue and cells of the pancreas return to normal. With chronic pancreatitis, damage to the pancreas occurs slowly over time. Symptoms may be persistent or sporadic, but the condition does not disappear and the pancreas is permanently impaired. Pancreatic tissue is damaged, and the tissue and cells function poorly.

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