Endocrinology is a subspecialty of Internal Medicine that treats disorders involving our hormones. The endocrine system involves glands including the pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, pancreas, adrenal, ovaries, testes and other cells that produce hormones. Disorders treated by an endocrinologist include:
Diabetes: Diabetes is a disease in which the body is unable to regulate blood sugar. In Type 1 Diabetes, the islet cells of the pancreas are destroyed and the individual cannot produce any insulin. In individuals with Type 2 Diabetes, the islet cells do not produce adequate insulin and the body is resistant to the effects of the insulin that is produced.
Thyroid Disorders: The thyroid gland produces a hormone that helps to regulate our metabolism. Hyperthyroidism leads to excess production of thyroid hormones which causes symptoms including weight loss, heat intolerance, racing of the heart and jitteriness. In patients with hypothyroidism, insufficient thyroid hormones are produced which causes the body to slow down. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, cold intolerance, and weight gain. Thyroid nodules are fairly common. They are often benign, but the incidence of thyroid cancer is growing rapidly.
Adrenal Gland: The adrenal gland controls hormones that regulate blood pressure and stress response. Dysfunction of the adrenal gland can cause many diseases including hypertension, Cushing’s disease, and hypoadrenalism.
Parathyroid glands and calcium metabolism: The four parathyroid glands, along with Vitamin D, help to regulate the level of calcium in our blood. Hyperparathyroidism can lead to elevated calcium levels, which can lead to kidney stones and osteoporosis. Calcium metabolism is vital for bone health. Osteoporosis is one of the most common endocrine disorders, and treatment can significantly decrease the risk of bone fractures.
Sexual Function (Ovaries and Testes): Ovaries and testes control sexual function. A common disorder in young women is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a syndrome characterized by abnormal menstrual cycles and excess production of male hormones, which causes symptoms of excess hair growth, weight gain, and acne. In men, a common disorder is hypogonadism i.e. low testosterone (low T).
Pituitary Disorders: The pituitary gland is considered the master gland and controls the function of all the other endocrine glands. Dysfunction of this gland can lead to the development of the above disorders.
Obesity: As we learn more about obesity, it is clear that there are multiple hormones that regulate our weight. Our fat cells are metabolically active and secrete hormones, such as Leptin, that contribute to the regulation of appetite and metabolism. Our gastrointestinal system secretes multiple hormones, such as Ghrelin and GLP1, that regulate our weight. These are just of few of the endocrine hormones involved in weight regulation.