nursing pathophysiology: The Exocrine and Endocrine Functions of the Pancreas

Describe both the exocrine and endocrine functions of the pancreas.

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The Exocrine and Endocrine Functions of the Pancreas

The pancreas is an exocrine and endocrine organ located in the upper-left abdomen, behind the stomach. It is surrounded by the spleen, small intestine, and liver. It is a flat spongy spear-shaped organ, measuring between six and ten inches in length. The pancreas performs exocrine and endocrine functions by secreting and releasing digestive ions, water, and enzymes to the gastrointestinal tract and vital hormones to the bloodstream.

As an exocrine organ, the pancreas produces digestive enzymes that work together with the bile from the gallbladder to assist in the breakdown of food. The organ has exocrine glands that secret crucial digestive enzymes: chymotrypsin, trypsin, lipase, and amylase (Atkinson et al., 2020). When the food enters the stomach, the pancreas secretes these enzymes, releasing them to the duodenum through the pancreatic duct. These enzymes mix with the bile at the ampulla of Vater, which is located in the upper part of the small intestine. The lipase is responsible for breaking down fats, the amylase enzyme for breaking down carbohydrates, and chymotrypsin and trypsin enzymes for breaking down proteins (Atkinson et al., 2020). Thus, the exocrine function of the pancreas is the production of enzymes that break down foods for effective digestion.

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As an endocrine organ, the pancreas secretes and releases vital hormones responsible for regulating blood sugar into the bloodstream. The endocrine section of the pancreas has dedicated islet cells, referred to as islets of Langerhans, which secretes and releases blood sugar-regulating hormones into the bloodstream (Walling, 2018). The two hormones are insulin and glucagon. Insulin helps lower blood sugar levels, while glucagon increases blood sugar when it falls below the required levels (Walling, 2018). Organs such as the kidney, brain, and liver require proper blood sugar levels to function effectively. Thus, the endocrine function of the pancreas ensures that the sugar level remains at the optimal level.

Overall, the pancreas is considered both an exocrine and endocrine organ because it plays both roles. The exocrine functions involve secreting and releasing digestive enzymes that break down foods for proper digestion. In contrast, the endocrine function involves secreting and releasing blood sugar-regulating hormones into the bloodstream.


Atkinson, M. A., Campbell-Thompson, M., Kusmartseva, I., & Kaestner, K. H. (2020). Organization of the human pancreas in health and in diabetes. Diabetologia63(10), 1966-1973.

Walling, M. (2018). Endocrine System. In Fundamentals of Toxicologic Pathology (Third Edition). Elsevier Inc.