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Q.

Can you live without a pancreas?

Related Topics: Pancreas
 

Answers From Experts & Organizations (1)

Internal Medicine
Emory University
131 Answers
58,754 Helpful Votes
53 Followers
A.

Yes. The pancreas has two main functions: secretion of insulin, which controls blood sugar levels, and secretion of digestive enzymes and hormones. Although not a perfect solution, these functions can be replaced through insulin injections and oral pancreatic enzymes with meals.

Surgery to remove the pancreas completely is rarely done, so very few people have no pancreas at all. Much more common is having a pancreas that doesn’t work properly. In people with type 1 diabetes, the pancreas stops making insulin but continues to make digestive enzymes. In cystic fibrosis and chronic pancreatitis, both insulin and enzyme production are often impaired. After surgery to remove part of the pancreas (such as for pancreatic cancer), in some cases the remaining pancreas can’t make enough insulin, enzymes, or both.

People with diabetes are at higher risk for heart attacks and strokes, and low pancreatic enzymes can lead to vitamin deficiencies. Artificial replacement doesn’t work as well as a healthy pancreas, but it allows many people with pancreatic insufficiency to live full, active lives.

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