A pancreas transplant can help manage complications in the kidney that may result from insulin-dependent diabetes. It can eliminate the need for insulin injections, reduce or eliminate dietary and activity restrictions due to diabetes and decrease or eliminate the risk of severe low blood sugar reactions.
The pancreas, located below your liver and under your stomach, is about seven inches long and weighs about 3.5 ounces. It has two main functions.
The first is to help digest food by making and releasing enzymes in the upper portion of the small intestine. Carbohydrates, fats and proteins are broken down into small parts that the body uses as nourishment. The pancreas also produces large amounts of sodium bicarbonate, which makes the contents of the stomach less caustic or acidic as they flow through the small intestine. Sodium bicarbonate helps keep fluids in the body and prevent dehydration.
The second function is to make insulin, a hormone necessary for the body to use carbohydrates properly. If you don't produce insulin, you have a disease called diabetes.
A pancreas transplant can help manage organ damage that may result from insulin-dependent diabetes. It could eliminate the need for insulin injections, reduce or eliminate dietary and activity restrictions due to diabetes, and decrease or eliminate the risk of severe low blood sugar.
Patients with type 1 diabetes may be evaluated for pancreas and kidney-pancreas transplants. Patients with type 2 diabetes are less likely to be candidates for a pancreas transplant because they may be insulin-resistant and unable to reap the benefits of a pancreas transplant.
Although type 1 diabetes can develop at any age, type 1 diabetes most commonly occurs in children and young adults, which is why it was previously called juvenile diabetes. It is considered an autoimmune disease, meaning that the body's own immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Patients with type 1 diabetes have very little or no insulin and need to take insulin everyday.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the condition. It usually is diagnosed in adults over the age of 40. About 80 percent of those patients are overweight. As children have become increasingly overweight, Type 2 diabetes is being diagnosed at younger ages.
The usual treatment for diabetes is to take insulin to replace what the pancreas is not producing. Careful monitoring of blood sugar levels to achieve the correct insulin dosage may prevent or slow many diabetic complications.
Another treatment to restore insulin production is a pancreas transplant. Transplants, however, aren't recommended if patients can manage the disease through diet, medication or other means because the procedure has all the risks and recovery issues of major surgery as well as the risk of organ rejection.
To prevent rejection, patients must take powerful anti-rejection medications for the rest of their lives. These medications have many side effects and makes patients more susceptible to other illnesses.
Because there's a shortage of donor pancreases, patients must wait for an available organ. These wait periods vary depending on blood type. In general, pancreas and kidney-pancreas wait times are shorter than the wait times for a kidney alone.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.