The endocrine system is a network of glands that produce and release hormones. These hormones are in charge of several functions in the body, from heartbeat to tissue growth to the creation of new life.
Each gland in the endocrine system serves a specific purpose, and even a small issue with one or more of these glands can interrupt the careful balance the body strikes with these hormones—this is called an endocrine disorder.
Types of Endocrine Disorders
Diabetes is the most common endocrine disorder diagnosed in the United States, but there are many others. They include:
- • Adrenal insufficiency: This occurs when the adrenal gland releases too little cortisol and/or aldosterone. Symptoms can include fatigue, stomach issues, dehydration and skin changes.
- • Cushing’s disease: Overproduction of the pituitary gland hormone, leading to an overactive adrenal gland.
- • Gigantism (acromegaly) and other growth hormone problems: If the pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone, bones and body parts may grow too quickly in children. Alternatively, if growth hormone levels are too low, growth might be stunted.
- • Hyperthyroidism: This disorder is characterized by the thyroid gland producing too much thyroid hormone. This can lead to weight loss, rapid heart rate, sweating and nervousness.
- • Hypothyroidism: When the thyroid gland produces too little thyroid hormone, fatigue, constipation, dry skin and depression can occur. In children, hypothyroidism can cause slowed development.
- • Hypopituitarism: This occurs when the pituitary gland releases little or no hormones. Women with this condition may stop having menstrual cycles.
- • Multiple endocrine neoplasia I and II (MEN I and MEN II): These are rare genetic conditions that cause tumors of the parathyroid, adrenal and thyroid glands and cause overproduction of hormones.
- • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): Overproduction of androgens that interferes with the development of eggs and their release from female ovaries.
- • Precocious puberty: Abnormally early puberty that occurs when glands incorrectly tell the body to release sex hormones too early.
Causes of Endocrine Disorders
The causes of endocrine disorders are grouped into categories:
- 1. Disorders caused by a gland producing too much or too little of a hormone, called a hormone imbalance.
- 2. Disorders due to the development of lesions in the endocrine system that can affect hormone levels.
Specific causes of hormone imbalance may include:
- • Issues with the endocrine feedback system
- • Disease
- • Failure of simulation of glands to release hormones
- • Genetic disorders like MEN or congenital hypothyroidism
- • Infection
- • Injury to an endocrine gland
- • Tumor of an endocrine gland
If you have an endocrine disorder, you’ll be referred to an endocrinologist. Tests here can include blood and urine tests to check hormone levels, and imaging tests may be done if a tumor or nodule needs to be located.
If you have symptoms of an endocrine disorder, speak to your doctor or endocrinologist for a testing and treatment plan.