Endocrinology is the study of medicine that relates to the system that controls hormones within the human body, known as the endocrine system. The endocrine system is a series of glands that produce and secrete hormones that the body uses for a wide range of functions, and there are specific diseases that are caused by problems with hormones. When the glands do not produce the correct amount of hormones, diseases and conditions can arise that affect many different aspects of life.
Endocrine diseases fall into three categories:
- Gland hypersecretion
- Gland hyposecretion
Tumors in the endocrine glands, whether benign or cancerous, can cause hormone balance issues. When a gland secretes too much of a hormone, hypersecretion occurs and causes an imbalance in the hormonal level. When a gland has a deficiency of a certain hormone, hyposecretion occurs, and the glands will secrete too little of the hormone. In each of these situations, the result is a disease that impacts the body and its overall function and well-being.
The Endocrine glands include:
- Adrenal glands: These endocrine glands sit on top of the kidneys and produce a variety of hormones including the release of adrenaline and the steroids cortisol and aldosterone.
- Hypothalamus: A part of the lower middle brain that has a vital role in controlling many bodily functions. This glands tells the pituitary gland when to release hormones.
- Islet cells in the pancreas: These are clusters of cells in the pancreas that sense blood sugar levels and control the release of the hormones insulin and glucagon.
- Ovaries: The female reproductive organs that release eggs and produce sex hormones, including estrogen, to trigger menstruation.
- Parathyroid: Four tiny glands in the neck with the sole purpose of controlling the calcium in the blood and bones.
- Pineal gland: A gland found near the center of the brain that produces the hormone melatonin. This gland controls sleep-wake cycles.
- Pituitary gland: The major endocrine gland attached to the base of brain. It is often called the "master gland" because it produces hormones that control and influence many other endocrine glands.
- Testes: The male reproductive glands that secrete produce sperm and secrete testosterone, which is a hormone that is vital to the normal development of male physical characteristics.
- Thymus: A gland in the upper chest that produces T cells to help develop the body's immune system early in life.
- Thyroid: A butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck that makes and stores hormones that help regulate the heartbeat, blood pressure, body temperature, and metabolism.
What physicians must be aware of is that a change in one hormone level can throw off another hormone level. Therefore, because of this domino effect, treatment of endocrine disorders can be complicated. Routine blood work and urine tests to check for problems with hormone levels are necessary. This routine blood work is also necessary to determine whether medication or treatment plans need to be adjusted.
Physicians must help patients stay abreast of their endocrine disorders in order to promote proper treatment and success. The most common complaints in patients with endocrine diseases are fatigue and weakness. Therefore, it is also necessary for physicians to make it a priority to test the hormone levels of their routine patients, especially those who complain of continued fatigue and/or weakness.
Hormone imbalances can affect every aspect of a person's life, yet they are often undiagnosed simply because physicians overlook the importance of simple tests. By making it a priority to test patients' hormone levels regularly, patients are better served.
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