What are endocrine disorders?
Endocrine disorders are diseases related to the endocrine glands of the body. The endocrine system produces hormones, which are chemical signals sent out, or secreted, through the bloodstream. Hormones help the body regulate processes, such as appetite, breathing, growth, fluid balance, feminization and virilization, and weight control.
The endocrine system consists of several glands, including the pituitary gland and hypothalamus in the brain, adrenal glands in the kidneys, and thyroid in the neck, as well as the pancreas, ovaries and testes. The stomach, liver and intestines also secrete hormones related to digestion. Most common endocrine disorders are related to improper functioning of the pancreas and the pituitary, thyroid and adrenal glands.
Common endocrine disorders include diabetes mellitus, acromegaly (overproduction of growth hormone), Addison’s disease (decreased production of hormones by the adrenal glands), Cushing’s syndrome (high cortisol levels for extended periods of time), Graves’ disease (type of hyperthyroidism resulting in excessive thyroid hormone production), Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (autoimmune disease resulting in hypothyroidism and low production of thyroid hormone), hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), and prolactinoma (overproduction of prolactin by the pituitary gland). These disorders often have widespread symptoms, affect multiple parts of the body, and can range in severity from mild to very severe. Treatments depend on the specific disorder but often focus on adjusting hormone balance using synthetic hormones.
Modern treatment is generally quite effective for endocrine disorders, and severe consequences of endocrine dysfunction are rare. However, untreated endocrine disorders can have widespread complications throughout the body.
While endocrine disorders do not usually require hospitalization, in some cases they may lead to severe symptoms. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, or difficulty thinking clearly.
Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for endocrine disorders and have persistent bothersome symptoms, as they may indicate a more serious condition.
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- Cushing’s syndrome. National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service. http://endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/cushings/cushings.htm.