Information, Symptoms, Treatments and Resources


What's My Pancreas Do?


There's a lot of lingo thrown at you when you have diabetes. Here we've collected the must-know terms and translated them into plain language.



What it means: The pancreas is a comma-shaped organ about 6 inches in length. It’s located behind the stomach and connected to the small intestine with a small tube, or duct. The pancreas is part of the endocrine system. It plays a key role in digestion, and also helps regulate blood glucose levels. 

What it means to you: When blood glucose levels start to rise, a type of cell called the beta cell in the pancreas produces insulin to lower blood glucose. If you have type 1 diabetes, you have few or no beta cells left, and are unable to lower blood glucose with your own insulin. If you have type 2 diabetes, your body may still produce insulin, but it doesn’t work as it should to lower your blood glucose.

When blood glucose levels get too low, a normal pancreas produces the hormone glucagon, which triggers the release of glucose stored in the liver. People with type 1 diabetes often lose this ability to secrete glucagon when their blood glucose goes low. This lack of ability to naturally regulate blood glucose is why people with type 1 diabetes, in particular, need such close monitoring of their blood glucose level and must carefully balance carbs, insulin and possibly other medications to keep their blood glucose levels in a healthy range.

Published on February 23, 2015.

Compiled by Paula Ford-Martin, MA. Paula is the author of The Everything Guide to Managing Type 2 Diabetes.

Reviewed by Nora Saul, MS, RD, LDN, CDE on January 17, 2015
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