What Are the Causes of an Enlarged Pancreas?

An integral part of the digestive system, the pancreas produces enzymes for digestion and insulin for glucose, or sugar, breakdown, according to Jackson Siegelbaum Gastroenterology in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Diseases of the pancreas can destroy this organ and are frequently the cause for an enlarged pancreas. The pancreas sits behind the stomach, therefore an enlarged pancreas is usually found on radiographic images.


Whether acute, meaning a single painful attack, or chronic, pancreatitis is a painful disorder characterized by the swelling of this organ. Someone with pancreatitis will appear physically ill, having a high fever, pallor and significant abdominal pain, according to Jackson Siegelbaum Gastroenterology. In a pancreatic attack, the digestive enzymes get stuck near the pancreas and can break down, or digest, the pancreas' cells.


The pancreas is not immune to the effects of cancer, abscesses or cysts. Cancerous tumors will cause pancreatic enlargement, usually visible on computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging or ultrasound. Pancreatic cancer is more common in middle-aged and elderly people and is usually asymptomatic, according to Jackson Siegelbaum Gastroenterology. Not all tumors or pancreatic growths are cancerous, however. Some benign, or noncancerous, cysts and abscesses can cause pancreatic enlargement. The "American Journal of Roentgenology" states that this swelling can impact the gallbladder and bile ducts as well.


A pancreatic disease sometimes responsible for pancreatic enlargement is diabetes. Types 1, 2 and gestational diabetes all revolve around a lack of insulin, which is an important enzyme produced by the pancreas that breaks down sugar in the bloodstream. When the swollen pancreas is not producing insulin at all, as in Type 1, or the insulin is depleted and ineffective, as in Type 2, a hyperglycemic state, or a state of high sugar in the blood and body, results. Traditional signs of diabetes include excessive thirst, hunger and urinary frequency.

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