What is Endocrinology?
The clinical specialty of endocrinology focuses on the endocrine organs, a network of glands whose primary function is hormone secretion. Hormones are chemicals that are manufactured in certain organs of the body and travel through the bloodstream with the purpose of maintaining and regulating the growth and activity of other organs and the body as a whole. Every aspect of human growth and development is affected by hormones.
These two small glands are located on top of each kidney. The adrenal glands consist of two parts, The outer portion, the adrenal cortex is further divided into three sections which maintain normal blood pressure, secretes steroidal hormones which influence the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins; and have an anti-inflammatory effect during times of stress. The adrenal cortex also secretes sex hormones necessary for the growth of secondary sex characteristics in males and females. The inner portion of the gland is known as the adrenal medulla. It secretes non-steroidal hormones that play an important role in the body’s response to stress ie, adrenaline. These increase heart rate, dilate the bronchioles, raise glucose levels of the blood, and elevate blood pressure.
The pancreas is located in the upper left part of the abdomen and produces hormones (including insulin) which are responsible for regulating the amount of glucose in the blood.
This is a pea sized structure located at the base of the brain. Known as a “Master Gland,” it has an effect on nearly all body functions.
Located in the neck and attached to the trachea, the thyroid regulates body temperature and metabolism.
These are four round tissues on the back of the thyroid gland. They regulate the amount of calcium in the blood.
This is primarily responsible for the development of the immune system.
A pinecone shaped gland located in the midbrain that secretes a hormone, melatonin, which seems to have a role in promoting sleep.
The ovaries produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone which are responsible for maturation of the egg, preparing the uterus for implantation of a fertilized egg and the development of the placenta. Estrogen is also necessary for the development of secondary female characteristics.
These male sex glands produce testosterone, the hormone responsible for the maturation of sperm and the development of male secondary sex characteristics.
The skin, intestines, heart, and many other organs have some endocrine functions as well.
With such a wide range of endocrine organs that it should come as no surprise that there are many different endocrine disorders and each can vary significantly in terms of severity. Following is a brief list of endocrine conditions that may arise.
Glucose Homeostasis Disorders
Type 1 Diabetes
In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. Type 1 diabetes,(previously called juvenile diabetes) is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, although it can develop later in life as well. Only 5% of people with diabetes have this form of the disease.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. If you have type 2 diabetes your body does not use insulin properly. This is called insulin resistance. At first, your pancreas makes extra insulin to make up for it. But, over time it isn’t able to keep up and can’t make enough insulin to keep your blood glucose at normal levels. If you have type 2 diabetes, your body prevents the insulin it does make from working right. Your body may make some insulin, but not enough.
Many people with type 2 diabetes follow meal and physical activity plans to help manage their blood sugar. But following a meal plan and staying active often are not enough to keep blood sugar in check. Medicine is often necessary to restore the body to maintain normal blood glucose levels.
Today, there are many medications, insulin products and insulin devices available to treat all the stages of type 2 diabetes. You and your diabetes care team can work together to find the diabetes products that are right for you.
This clinical syndrome, resulting from low blood sugar (glucose), occurs when the body’s sugar is used up too quickly, glucose is released into the bloodstream too slowly, or too much insulin is released into the bloodstream.
An under-active thyroid, with too little secretion of thyroid hormone, is called hypothyroidism, with general symptoms of slowing down. An overactive thyroid gland is called hyperthyroidism, with signs of increased body metabolism, along with possible swelling of the thyroid gland (known as goiter.)
Thyroid Nodules & Cancer
A thyroid nodule is defined as a small lump of tissue (either solid or cystic – filled with fluid), usually more than one quarter of an inch in diameter that may protrude from the neck’s surface or may form in the thyroid gland itself. The nodule can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
Metabolic Bone Disorders
The word osteoporosis literally means “porous bones.” It occurs when bones lose an excessive amount of their protein and mineral content, particularly calcium. Over time, bone mass, and therefore bone strength, is decreased. As a result, bones become fragile and break easily.
Other diseases of the bone, including Hyperparathyroidism, Osteomalacia, Rickets, and Osteitis deformans (Paget’s disease of bone) can be attributed to cellular changes or to nutritional deficiencies/excesses brought on by dietary imbalances.
Parathyroid & Calcium Disorders
Humans typically have four parathyroid glands. The glands secrete parathyroid hormone, which regulates blood calcium and phosphate levels. Increased hormone secretion releases calcium from bone into the bloodstream resulting in blood calcium excess.
Adrenal Gland Disorders
Adrenal gland disorders occur when the adrenal glands don’t work properly. Sometimes the cause is a problem in another gland that helps to regulate the adrenal gland or the adrenal gland itself may have the problem. Adrenal gland disorders include:
- Adrenal insufficiency
- Addison’s Disease
- Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (Adrenogenital Syndrome)
- Mineralocorticoid deficiency
- Conn’s Syndrome
- Cushing’s Syndrome
- Adrenocortical Carcinoma
- Adrenal Tumor
Pituitary Gland Disorders
The pituitary gland is a tiny organ, the size of a pea, found at the base of the brain. As the master gland of the body, it produces and secretes many hormones that travel throughout the body, directing certain processes and stimulating other glands to produce different types of hormones. The pituitary gland controls biochemical processes important to our well-being. Pituitary gland disorders include:
- Diabetes insipidus
- Hypopituitarism (or Panhypopituitarism)
- Pituitary tumors
Obesity & Nutrition
Overweight and obesity are both labels for ranges of weight that are greater than what is generally considered healthy for a given height. The terms also identify ranges of weight that have been shown to increase the likelihood of certain diseases and other health problems. Obesity is a leading preventable cause of death worldwide.
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of arteries as it flows through them. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the body’s tissues. Hypertension, high blood pressure, is serious because people with the condition have a higher risk for heart disease and other medical problems than people with normal blood pressure. Serious complications can be avoided by getting regular blood pressure checks and treating hypertension as soon as it is diagnosed.
Lipid Disorders (High cholesterol and triglycerides
The medical term for high blood cholesterol and triglycerides is lipid disorder. Such a disorder occurs when you have too many fatty substances in your blood. These substances include cholesterol and triglycerides. While diet may affect cholesterol and triglyceride, for most people, dietary modification is not enough to regulate lipid levels
Endocrinologists treat infertility by identifying the factors involved in infertility, in both men and women, and selecting the appropriate methods to treat these factors.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
This is one of the most common female endocrine disorders affecting approximately 5%-10% of women of reproductive age (12-45 years old.). PCOS is defined by irregular ovulation and signs of elevated testosterone.
Male Hypogonadism / Low Testosterone
Known as testosterone deficiency, this male infertility condition is characterized by inefficiency of the male sex glands (testes) in production of adequate testosterone, sperm or both. It’s natural for testosterone levels to decline as men age, but sometimes low testosterone can cause symptoms ranging from low sex drive to depression.