The endocrine system consists of all of the body's hormones and the glands that secrete them. Hormones regulate all the biological processes in the body and are essential to normal function. When there is a problem with one of the glands in the endocrine system, and hormones are not secreted correctly, the body is affected in many ways. An endocrinologist diagnoses the problem and formulates a treatment plan.
Hormones are chemical messengers sent by the glands of the endocrine system to act on an organ in another part of the body. Humans have over 50 hormones, some discovered quite recently. When hormones are out of balance, symptoms are often unspecific, which is why seeing an endocrinologist is key to getting treatment. An endocrinologist is a doctor specializing in hormones, the glands that produce them, and their effects on the body.
A key part of the endocrine system is the hypothalamus. It links the endocrine system and the nervous system. The hypothalamus regulates body temperature, emotions, the sleep-wake cycle, and more. Problems with the hypothalamus may result from traumatic brain injury, tumors, or surgery. In the absence of these, an endocrinologist may look for signs of immune system diseases, genetic disorders, or poor nutrition. Many problems with the hypothalamus are treatable. An endocrinologist can prescribe the appropriate medication or replacement hormones.
Pituitary disorders are also diagnosed and treated by an endocrinologist. The pituitary gland makes or stores many hormones, including growth hormone, thyroid-stimulating hormone, antidiuretic hormone, and many chemicals involved in fertility, pregnancy, and breastfeeding. When the pituitary gland does not function properly, a lot of health issues can arise. An endocrinologist evaluates pituitary function and, depending on the cause of the dysfunction, may prescribe medication or recommend surgery.
The thyroid gland and its hormones control the rate of many processes in the body, including metabolism. Symptoms of thyroid dysfunction include fatigue, joint pain, muscle weakness, slow or rapid heart rate, and weight loss or weight gain. Thyroid disorders are particularly hard to diagnose because their symptoms mimic those of so many other conditions. Seeing an endocrinologist is essential for getting timely and appropriate treatment.
Endocrinologists also treat adrenal gland disorders. Problems with the adrenal glands can cause skin problems, high or low blood pressure, muscle weakness, moodiness, high blood sugar, dehydration, and irregular periods and excess facial hair in women. Adrenal gland disorders can also be caused by problems with the pituitary gland. These conditions can be quite complex and should be followed carefully by an endocrinologist.
Diabetes is one of the more common reasons people see an endocrinologist. The pancreas releases insulin, which affects how the body uses glucose. The cause of diabetes depends on the type. An endocrinologist monitors lab work that shows how well the patient is controlling their diabetes and helps develop a plan for maintaining effective control of the condition longterm.
The gonads control sexual differentiation, puberty, and the menstrual cycle, and regulate the testes and ovaries. Hormones released by the gonads also contribute to infertility and erectile dysfunction. Some endocrinologists specialize in disorders of the gonads and are instrumental in identifying and correcting hormone imbalances, including low testosterone in men and low estrogen and progesterone in women.
An endocrinologist works with primary care doctors to monitor and treat any hormonal condition. For most people, their primary care doctor is the first person they see about their symptoms, and the doctor then refers them to a specialist. The treatment goal with a hormonal disease is to manage the symptoms, and this is done most effectively under the care of a team that includes an endocrinologist.
Endocrinologists have special training that makes them specialists at treating endocrine system-related conditions. While a general practitioner is familiar with hormone disorders, an endocrinologist has studied hormone issues and the conditions they can cause in-depth, which makes them qualified to provide the best possible care. Endocrinologists are also skilled at managing these conditions in patients with complex underlying medical issues, like cystic fibrosis or mitochondrial disorders.
A primary care physician is likely to refer a patient to an endocrinologist if the present with non-specific symptoms or if the doctor suspects a relevant condition. To prepare for the appointment, keep a record of your symptoms and anything you have noticed that makes improves or worsens them. Write down any questions you have. The endocrinologist will perform an assessment and ask a lot of in-depth questions about your symptoms and family history. To get an accurate diagnosis, the doctor will order lab work to check various hormone levels and other diagnostic testing when applicable. These results are necessary for a diagnosis and treatment plan, so you may not get all of the answers you are looking for at the first appointment.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.