The endocrine system is made up of eight major glands that are found throughout the body. Each gland produces at least one hormone. These chemical messengers carry instructions through your bloodstream to regulate your body’s important functions.
Hormones affect processes throughout the body, including growth, mood, and pregnancy. Hormones also regulate your metabolism. This includes digestion, elimination, breathing, blood circulation, and body temperature.
What Are Endocrine Disorders?
Because hormones affect your body’s systems from head to toe, your whole body can suffer when your hormones are out of balance. Endocrine disorders occur when your hormone levels become too low or too high.
When your body makes enough of a hormone but can’t use it properly, that’s also a sign of a possible endocrine disorder.
Here’s what you need to know about some of the most common endocrine disorders.
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Diabetes is by far the most common endocrine disorder in the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 34 million Americans — over 10% of the population — have diabetes. About one-third of American adults — 88 million — have prediabetes.
The pancreas makes the hormone insulin. Your cells use insulin to absorb glucose from the foods you eat. Cells then convert the glucose into energy to fuel the body.
In type 1 diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin. In type 2 diabetes, your body makes enough insulin but is unable to use it efficiently.
The American Diabetes Association reports that common symptoms of diabetes include excessive hunger and thirst, frequent urination, blurred vision, and slow healing of cuts and scratches.
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that sits in the front of your neck. The hormones it produces control how the body uses energy. These hormones also help regulate critical body functions like heart rate.
According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), about 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease. Women are five to eight times more likely to develop thyroid disease than men.
When your thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones, that’s known as hypothyroidism. Symptoms include feeling tired, cold, and sluggish. You may gain weight and experience depression.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid produces too much of the hormones. If this happens, you may feel nervous, irritable, and hot. You may lose weight and experience eye irritation.
Symptoms of Endocrine Disorders
Many people are unaware that they have diabetes or thyroid disease — the two most common endocrine disorders.
The CDC estimates this is the case for one in five Americans with diabetes. Likewise, most people with prediabetes — 84% — don’t know they have it. Similarly, the ATA believes that at least half of those with a thyroid disorder remain undiagnosed.
That’s because the symptoms for these disorders aren’t always specific. As a general rule, see your doctor if you have excessive fatigue or weakness, or if something feels “off.”
Endocrine disorders often develop gradually, so you may get used to not feeling your best. Or you may not have symptoms.
Treatment of Endocrine Disorders
Treating your endocrine disorder depends on which hormone level is affected and the cause of the imbalance.
If you don’t make enough of a hormone, your doctor may prescribe hormone replacement therapy.
Treatment options also are available if your body creates too much of a hormone. Depending on which hormone is too high, treatment can include medicine, surgery, or radiation therapy.
Finding the correct dose to treat hormone imbalances can take several months. You’ll want to continue to see your endocrinologist for monitoring because medicines and doses may need to be adjusted over time.
The UPMC Department of Endocrinology stands as a national leader in research of diabetes and endocrine conditions. We partner with the University of Pittsburgh Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism for research and clinical trials. We treat diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, hormonal disorders, and thyroid disorders at several locations across our communities. We also have specialized Diabetes Centers to help you manage your disease. Find an expert near you.