A direct connection exists between the pancreas and diabetes. The pancreas is an organ deep in your abdomen behind your stomach. It’s an important part of your digestive system.

The pancreas produces enzymes and hormones that help you digest food. One of these hormones, insulin, is necessary to regulate glucose.

Glucose refers to sugars in your body. Every cell in your body needs glucose for energy. Think of insulin as a lock to the cell. Insulin must open the cell to allow it to use glucose for energy.

If your pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin or your body doesn’t use it effectively, glucose builds up in your bloodstream, leaving your cells starved for energy.

When glucose builds up in your bloodstream, this is known as hyperglycemia. The symptoms of hyperglycemia include thirst, nausea, and shortness of breath.

Hyperglycemia can quickly become life threatening.

Each type of diabetes involves the pancreas not functioning properly. How the pancreas doesn’t function properly differs depending on the type.

No matter what type of diabetes you have, ongoing monitoring of blood glucose levels is essential so you can take the appropriate action.

Type 1 diabetes

In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the beta cells that produce insulin in your pancreas. The attack causes permanent damage and leaves your pancreas unable to produce insulin.

The exact cause of the attack by the immune system is unclear, but genetic and environmental factors may play a role.

You’re more likely to develop type 1 diabetes if you have a family history of the disease. About 5 to 10 percent of people with diabetes have type 1. People with type 1 diabetes typically receive the diagnosis during childhood or early adulthood.

Because the exact cause is unclear, type 1 diabetes isn’t preventable nor is it curable. Anyone with type 1 diabetes needs insulin therapy because their pancreas doesn’t function.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes starts with insulin resistance. This means your body no longer uses insulin well, so your blood glucose levels can become too high or too low.

Type 2 diabetes can also mean that your pancreas produces insulin but not enough. Most of the time, type 2 diabetes develops due to a combination of insulin deficiency and ineffective use of insulin.

This type of diabetes may also have a genetic or environmental cause. Other factors contributing to type 2 diabetes include:

  • a poor diet
  • a lack of exercise
  • obesity

Treatment for type 2 diabetes generally includes changes to your diet and exercise routines. Medications can also help you keep type 2 diabetes under control.

Some drugs help reduce the amount of glucose in your blood and make your body more responsive to insulin. Others stimulate the pancreas to produce more insulin.

Learn more about the medications available to treat type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

In some cases, the pancreas eventually stops producing insulin, so insulin therapy becomes necessary.


If you have prediabetes, your blood glucose levels are outside the standard range but not high enough for you to have diabetes. This could happen if your pancreas slows down insulin production or your body doesn’t use insulin as well as it should.

You may be able to prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes by:

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs only during pregnancy. Because there are more risks to mother and baby, extra monitoring during pregnancy and delivery is necessary.

Gestational diabetes usually resolves after childbirth. If you’ve had gestational diabetes, you’re at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Inflammation of the pancreas is called pancreatitis. When inflammation comes on suddenly and lasts for a few days, it’s called acute pancreatitis. When it happens over many years, it’s called chronic pancreatitis.

Some people may require hospitalization for pancreatitis, which can become life threatening. But in many cases, doctors can treat the condition with medication.

Chronic inflammation of the pancreas can damage the cells that produce insulin. This can lead to diabetes.

Pancreatitis and type 2 diabetes share some of the same risk factors. Observational studies indicate that people with type 2 diabetes may have a two- to threefold increased risk of acute pancreatitis.

Other possible causes of pancreatitis include:

  • gallstones
  • high triglyceride levels
  • high calcium levels
  • excessive alcohol use

Diabetes can increase your risk of pancreatic cancer if you’ve had diabetes for more than 5 years.

Diabetes can also be a symptom of pancreatic cancer, especially if you develop type 2 diabetes after age 50.

If your diabetes has been well-controlled, but you suddenly can’t control your blood sugar, it may be an early sign of pancreatic cancer.

In people with type 2 diabetes and pancreatic cancer, it’s difficult to know whether one caused the other. The diseases share certain risk factors, including:

  • poor diet
  • physical inactivity
  • obesity
  • aging

Pancreatic cancer may not cause symptoms in the early stages. People typically receive the diagnosis when the condition is in an advanced stage.

It begins with mutations of pancreatic cells. While doctors can’t always determine the cause of pancreatic cancer, contributing factors may include genetics and smoking.

Having diabetes doesn’t mean you’ll develop other problems with your pancreas. Also, being diagnosed with pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer doesn’t mean you’ll develop diabetes.

Because your pancreas is essential for managing insulin, you may want to talk with a doctor about the connection. You can also incorporate lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of diabetes or pancreatitis, such as:

  • Maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet.
  • Reduce your intake of simple carbohydrates.
  • If you drink alcohol, reduce your intake.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Talk with a doctor about the best ways to maintain a healthy weight.
  • If you have diabetes, follow your doctor’s prescribed treatment plan.