What is the function of endocrine glands?

Endocrine disorders affect the function of the endocrine glands.
Endocrine disorders affect the function of the endocrine glands.

Endocrine glands are organs that are specialized in regulating various functions of your body. These functions include growth and development, metabolism, sexual function, reproduction and mood.

Normally, your body has eight major endocrine glands, each serving a different set of functions. Most of the time, these endocrine glands work in coordination with each other and their processes are interdependent. Hormones secreted by an endocrine gland influence the functioning of the various organs and other endocrine glands in the body. Endocrine disorders occur when an organ or a gland fails to respond to the hormones secreted by another endocrine gland or when the body does not react to the hormones in the way it should.

What are the symptoms of endocrine disorders?

Each endocrine disorder has its own set of signs and symptoms. These signs and symptoms depend upon what type of hormone the endocrine gland secretes and the body functions that the hormone regulates. However, fatigue and weakness are common symptoms found in many endocrine disorders. Other symptoms may include weight changes, blood glucose level fluctuations, abnormal cholesterol levels, mood changes, etc.

What are some common endocrine disorders?

If your hormone levels are too high or too low, you may have an endocrine disorder, commonly known as a hormone disorder. 

Diabetes is the most common disorder in the United States. It happens either when the body cells become less sensitive to the insulin hormone or insulin is secreted in less quantity by your pancreas. This causes your blood sugar levels to increase. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels affect multiple organs over the course of time.  

Other common endocrine disorders are as follows

  • Hyperthyroidism: Your thyroid gland becomes overactive and secretes more hormone (T3 and/or T4). This causes rapid weight loss, heart problems, anxiety and many other symptoms.
  • Hypothyroidism: This is commonly referred to as an underactive thyroid in which your thyroid gland produces less hormones. This leads to complaints such as unintentional weight gain, constipation, dry skin, fatigue and so on. Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels are usually high in hypothyroidism. 
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome: The principle function of your ovaries, which is ovulation (releasing eggs for conception), is disturbed. This leads to a myriad of problems such as missed periods, abnormal growth of hair in areas such as upper lips and infertility among many others.
  • Acromegaly: The pituitary gland makes an excess of growth hormones, which makes your bones grow bigger and makes your hands and feet look huge compared to the rest of your body.
  • Adrenal insufficiency: Your adrenal glands secrete low amounts of the hormone known as cortisol, making you unable to deal with stress. You may start experiencing fatigue, weakness and weight loss gradually over time.
  • Cushing's disease: The adrenal glands secrete excess cortisol and make your face puffy and round resembling the moon (moon face).
  • Hypopituitarism: Your pituitary gland fails to produce one or more of its hormones or makes less of them. This disturbs the functioning of your adrenal and thyroid glands along with organs such as the ovaries and testes.
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN): This is a group of disorders that tends to run in families. It causes tumors in several endocrine glands.
  • Precocious puberty: When glands that control reproduction don’t work properly, some children start puberty abnormally early, around eight in girls and nine in boys.

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What causes endocrine disorders?

Endocrine disorders are usually diagnosed after matching your signs and symptoms with your blood tests that include hormone levels. There may be either an increase or a decrease in the hormones with an endocrine disorder. 

The endocrine system works on the principle of a feedback system known as the endocrine feedback system. This feedback system involves balancing the levels of various hormones by decreasing or increasing the levels of certain hormones. The cause of endocrine disorders is usually a disturbance in this feedback system. 

Other causes of endocrine disorders include the following

  • A genetic disorder (multiple endocrine neoplasia [MEN] or congenital hypothyroidism)
  • Idiopathic (cause unknown)
  • Infections
  • Poor lifestyle habits
  • Injury to the endocrine gland
  • Tumor of the endocrine gland
  • Major stress
  • Changes in the blood’s fluids
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Pregnancy can trigger some endocrine disorders (thyroid and diabetes)

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Medically Reviewed on 8/28/2020
References
Medscape Medical Reference

Medline


The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism


Hormone Health Network