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 branch of medicine associated with endocrine disorders is known as endocrinology. 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 in the ovaries and testes This system affects growth & development, metabolism, sexual function and mood. If your hormone levels are too high or too low, you may have an endocrine disease or disorder. Endocrine diseases and disorders also occur if your body does not respond to hormones the way it is supposed to. 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.
Causes of Endocrine Disorders
A number of factors are believed to cause endocrine disorders. Types and causes of endocrine disorders include:
- Acromegaly, an overproduction of growth hormone and prolactinoma, an overproduction of prolactin hormone, resulting from damage to the pituitary gland.
- Addison’s disease and Cushing’s syndrome, disorders relating to changes in levels of hormones produced by the adrenal glands.
- Diabetes mellitus, which arises when the pancreas does not produce sufficient insulin or when the body cannot respond to the insulin that is present.
- Environmental or nutritional factors, such as a lack of iodine in hypothyroidism, can affect hormone production.
- Genetic factors, which may play a role in endocrine disorders, especially with diabetes and other disorders, such as autoimmune thyroiditis, or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
- Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), Graves’ disease (a type of hyperthyroidism resulting in excessive thyroid hormone production) and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (an autoimmune disease resulting in hypothyroidism), all resulting from problems with the thyroid gland.
- Tumors, since the underlying cause of the endocrine disorder, can be linked to growth or tumor of the gland.
What are the risk factors for endocrine disorders?
A number of factors increase the risk of developing endocrine disorders. Not all people with risk factors will develop endocrine disorders. Risk factors for endocrine disorders include:
- Elevated cholesterol levels.
- Family history of endocrine disorder.
- Personal history of autoimmune disorders, such as diabetes.
- Poor diet.
- Pregnancy (in cases such as hyperthyroidism).
- Recent surgery, trauma, infection, or serious injury.
Reducing your risk of Endocrine Disorders
While many endocrine disorders are inherited or arise for unknown reasons, some may be related to modifiable lifestyle factors. You may be able to lower your risk of certain endocrine disorders, such as hypothyroidism, by:
- Eating a balanced, healthy diet.
- Living a healthy lifestyle, including regular physical activity.