The endocrine system is a complex network of glands that secrete hormones, which control basic body functions such as metabolism, growth and sexual development. Endocrinology is the branch of medicine that deals with the various hormones and their actions and disorders in the body.
Even the slightest interruption with the function of one or more of the endocrine glands can throw off the delicate balance of hormones in your body and lead to an endocrine disorder. These disorders include but are not limited to diabetes, Addison’s disease and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
This section provides a comprehensive description of what endocrinology is, and what internal processes are controlled by the endocrine system. It also provides an overview of which glands are part of the endocrine system and what their functions are.
For those who would like more information about the types of endocrine conditions that can arise, there is a section that offers details the most common endocrine disorders and their causes. You can also learn more about the diagnosis and treatment of endocrine disorders here.
The endocrine system is a complex network of glands that secrete chemicals called hormones to help your body function properly. Hormones are chemical signals that control basic body functions such as metabolism, growth and sexual development. Many of the hormones produced by the endocrine glands interact with each other to maintain balance. Too much or too little of a certain hormone can have effects throughout the body and cause various endocrine disorders. Endocrinology is the branch of medicine that deals with the various hormones and their actions and disorders in the body.
The endocrine system works to regulate certain internal processes. These glands secrete the hormones they produce directly into the bloodstream. This is different to exocrine glands, such as sweat and salivary glands, which secrete substances externally and internally via ducts. The endocrine system helps control the following processes and systems:
The endocrine system completes its tasks through its network of glands, which consists of:
Even the slightest interruption with the function of one or more of the endocrine glands can throw off the delicate balance of hormones in your body and lead to an endocrine disorder. The causes of increased or decreased levels of endocrine hormone may include:
In many cases, the exact cause of a particular endocrine disorder is not known. Often, hormones interact with each other, so symptoms of a particular endocrine disorder may be nonspecific. However, it is important to seek medical evaluation if you think you might have an endocrine disorder. An assessment of hormone levels may help to find and fix the underlying cause of your symptoms.
There are many different types of endocrine disorders. Diabetes is among the most common endocrine disorders in the world. Other endocrine disorders include:
If there appears to be a problem with your endocrine system, your doctor may refer you to a specialist called an endocrinologist. An endocrinologist is specially trained in problems with the endocrine system.
Endocrine disorders often have widespread symptoms, affect multiple parts of the body, and can range in severity from mild to very severe. However, most people with endocrine disorders suffer from fatigue and weakness.
Blood and urine tests are often conducted to check your hormone levels and to help your doctors determine if you have an endocrine disorder. Imaging tests may be done to help locate or pinpoint a nodule or tumor.
Treatments depend on the specific disorder but often focus on adjusting hormone balance using synthetic hormones. Treatment of endocrine disorders can be complicated, as a change in one hormone level can throw off another. Your doctor or specialist may order routine blood work to check for problems or to determine if your medication or treatment plan needs to be adjusted.