If you are referred to see an endocrinologist, your primary care doctor may suspect an issue with your endocrine system, a collection of glands that controls hormones in the body. When something goes wrong these unique glands, located in various places throughout the human body, hormonal imbalances occur.
Hormonal imbalances can cause a wide variety of health issues, including cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, infertility and a number of other diseases and ailments.
How Hormones Work
Humans have over 50 different hormones in our bodies. Hormones, which includes, amines, peptides, proteins and steroids, serve as chemical messengers in the body and help control everything from hunger and thirst to sleep and sex drive. Glands also control everything from the amount of calcium in the body to blood sugar levels. For example, hormones produced by the thyroid affect your body’s ability to burn calories properly and even your heart rate. Some of the main functions of the body that the endocrine system helps regulate include:
- Growth and development
- Sexual Function
- Cardiovascular health
- Bone health
- Sensory Perception
Endocrinologists specialize in diagnosing and treating various conditions with a goal of restoring the body’s hormonal balance. At Longstreet Clinic Endocrinology, our job is to examine your symptoms, diagnose the problem and determine the proper course of treatment.
Parts of the Endocrine System
The glands of the endocrine system include:
- Adrenal glands – located on top of the kidneys, these help regulate stress responses, kidney function and male sex hormones.
- Hypothalamus – located just above the brain stem, this help controls involuntary body functions, including respiration, heart rate, appetite, sleep, temperature and circadian rhythm.
- Pancreas – located in the abdomen, near the liver, it releases insulin and glucagon to help regulate blood sugar levels. It also aids in nervous system function and growth hormone production.
- Pineal gland – located deep in the brain, it secretes melatonin and helps regulate sleep and moderate levels of reproductive hormones
- Pituitary gland – located at the base of the brain, it regulates the function of other endocrine glands, as well as growth and skin pigmentation.
- Sex glands (gonads or ovaries) – located in the abdomen (women) and in the scrotum (men), these regulate sexual development, fertility and (in women) menstruation.
- Thyroid and parathyroid – located in the neck, near the throat, they are responsible for many functions, blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate, metabolism, calcium and phosphate regulation, muscle control and bone strength.
- Thymus gland – located beneath the sternum, it helps regulate the immune system.
Causes of Endocrine system malfunctions
Issues with the endocrine system can be complex and are caused by varying factors including:
- Certain diseases
- Environmental factors
Symptoms of Endocrine system malfunctions
An individual’s symptoms will vary and depend on which glands in your body are causing the problems. For example, hypothyroidism is the most common endocrine ailment and happens when your thyroid is not functioning at a full level. Hypothyroidism produces fatigue, depression, dry skin, constipation, weight gain, the sensation of always being cold and menstrual irregularities. But that is just one of several dozen illnesses and symptoms imparted by a malfunctioning endocrine system or gland.
Other common symptoms that may be a result of a problem in the endocrine system include:
- Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
- Diminished sex drive or sexual function
- Weak bones/osteoporosis
- Unexplained fatigue/malaise
Diagnosis & Treatment
To determine the origin of endocrine disorders, your endocrinologist may order blood tests and/or imaging studies based on the symptoms you are experiencing.
Because hormone imbalances can be caused by many different glands in the body, treatment options will vary based on the individual and gland causing the issue(s). Treatment options include everything from medication and lifestyle changes to surgical intervention in some cases.
If you suspect a hormonal imbalance, talk to your primary care providers and determine if consultation with an endocrinologist is right for you. Our team is experienced in the treatment of hormone disorders and diseases and looks forward to helping restore your quality of life.
Want to learn more about endocrinology and the endocrine system? Check out information from the Endocrine Society.