Endocrinology is a field in biology and medicine that deals with the endocrine system. The organs involved in the endocrine system include the pituitary, thyroid, adrenals, ovaries, testes and pancreas. These glands secrete hormones into the blood. Hormones of the endocrine system perform a variety of functions, and some hormones may have different effects depending on which organ is targeted. Organs may be targeted by a number of different hormones.
Endocrinopathy or endocrinosis are the terms used for diseases of the endocrine system. However, these conditions are often called hormone imbalances. Endocrinology may involve diagnosing and treating diseases of this system. Diagnosis often encompasses evaluating for a variety of symptoms and requires knowledge of clinical chemistry and biochemistry. Many laboratory tests also are used, including diagnostic imaging. Managing these diseases often requires long-term treatment and may involve treating the patient as a whole and maintaining observation of changes at the cellular or molecular level.
Endocrinologists must deal with many systems within the body, and researchers in the endocrinology field have tried to determine how the glands work. Researchers have also developed new drugs and treatments for hormone problems.
Other concerns of endocrinology include the integration of developmental events such as proliferation, growth and differentiation. Processes of differentiation may include histogenesis and organogenesis. Endocrinology also entails the coordination of many of the body’s systems, including metabolism, respiration, excretion, movement, reproduction and sensory perception. These systems may be examined on a chemical or cellular level and are observed based on chemical cues and secretions by various organs within the body.
Endocrine diseases are caused when hormone levels are too high or too low, or when the body does not react to hormones the way it is supposed to.
The most common endocrine disease in the U.S. is diabetes. However, other conditions treated within endocrinology include osteoporosis, menopause, obesity, short stature, thyroid disease, hypertension and infertility.
Treatments typically involve controlling the amount of hormone the body produces, and, in cases of hormone deficiency, the use of hormone supplements.
Fast facts on endocrinology
Here are some key points about endocrinology. More information is in the main article.
- Endocrinology involves a wide range of systems within the human body.
- The endocrine tissues include the adrenal gland, hypothalamus, ovaries, and testes.
- There are three broad groups of endocrine disorders.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome is the most common endocrine disorder in women.
A hormone imbalance can result from genetic or environmental factors.
Some infants are born with hormonal problems that can lead to a range of health issues, such as low growth.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, such as pesticides, lead, and phthalates, which are used in plastic food containers, can sometimes lead to hormonal problems.
There are three broad groups of endocrine disorders:
- A gland does not produce enough of its hormones. This is known as endocrine gland hyposecretion
- A gland produces too much of its hormones, also referred to as hypersecretion.
- Tumors develop in the endocrine glands. They may be malignant, or cancerous, but they may also be benign, or non-cancerous.
What can go wrong?
Here are some examples of what can happen if a gland secretes too much or too little of its hormones.
- Hypersecretion may lead to over-nervousness, sweating, raised blood pressure, and Cushing’s disease
- Hyposecretion may lead to Addison’s disease, Mineralocorticoid deficiency, weight loss, loss of energy, and anemia.
- Hypersecretion may lead to hyperinsulinism, too much insulin can lead to low blood glucose
- Hyposecretion may lead to one type of diabetes
- Hypersecretion may lead to brittle bones that fracture easily, as well as stones in the urinary system
- Hyposecretion may lead to involuntary muscle contractions, or tetany, caused by low levels of calcium in plasma
- Hyperthyroidism most often stems from Graves’ disease. It can lead to accelerated metabolism, sweating, arrhythmia or irregular heart beat, weight loss, and nervousness.
- Hypothyroidism may lead to tiredness, weight gain, depression, abnormal bone development, developmental delay, and stunted growth.
- Hypersecretion may lead to gigantism, or excessive growth
- Hyposecretion may lead to slow bone growth and short stature
- Hypersecretion may lead to an overactive immune system which overreacts to perceived threats. This may result in an autoimmune disease.
- Hyposecretion may lead to a weakened immune system, where the body is unable to fight infection and easily succumbs to viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens.
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