written by: Lashan Clarke•edited by: Diana Cooper•updated: 7/5/2011
What is an endocrinologist? An endocrinologist specializes in the endocrine system. Learn about the endocrine system, what training is required for endocrinology, and more in this article.
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An Introduction To The Endocrine System
One of the major systems within the body is the endocrine system. It is responsible for regulating all of the vast number of hormones that the organs of the body produce. The word endocrine can be broken down into "endo" meaning "occurring within" and the word "crine" meaning, "produced or secreted". Therefore this word is used to refer to a substance that is produced and used within the body. In a similar manner to the circulatory or nervous system, the endocrine system has components that are located through the entire body. Each component of the endocrine system will produce a hormone which is a chemical secreted to cause a change in body function. The hormone can function either locally where it is produced or at a more distant site. They can be produced by one organ to be used either within that organ (e.g. brain) or be transported elsewhere to be used by different organs within the body.
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The Organs of the Endocrine System
The major components within the endocrine system include the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus, adrenal, thyroid, pineal, and parathyroid glands, along with the testes, ovaries, and pancreas. Therefore, the endocrine system is mainly responsible for regulating metabolism, sexual function, and growth.
One important organ of the endocrine system is the pituitary gland. It is an unique organ because it produces hormones that act on other organs causing them to produce hormones. It is involved in producing hormones to regulate salt-water homeostasis, growth, the reproductive cycle, pregnancy and lactation.
Another important component of the endocrine system is the hypothalamus which is located within the central area of the brain. It produces various hormones including the hormone somatostatin. This hormone is responsible for a variety of functions such as regulating body temperature and producing a feeling of fullness or satiety.
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With all the functions of the endocrine system, it is no surprise that there is a specific specialty in medicine to handle disorders and diseases of the endocrine glands. So what is an endocrinologist? An endocrinologist is someone who treats all of the various conditions pertaining to the endocrine system. Therefore, the endocrinologist will need to treat conditions such as diabetes, dwarfism, hypertension, Grave’s disease, menopause, and infertility.
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The Training Necessary For Endocrinology
As a trained doctor, the endocrinologist will spend at least four years in medical school and another three to four years specializing in internal medicine. Afterwards they will need to do a subspecialty exam in endocrinology administered in the United States by the American Board of Internal Medicine. There is also the opportunity to become a fellow of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists after the exam and training is successfully completed.
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How An Endocrinologist Develops A Diagnosis
An endocrinologist will need to look at various factors to determine the diagnosis of the endocrine disorder. They can start by reviewing the person’s family history in regard to some endocrine conditions that can be inherited. For example, an endocrine disorder of the pancreas such as Type 1 diabetes can be inherited.
The doctor will also ask questions to determine a person’s past medical history, which is a great way of distinguishing old symptoms from new ones. After the medical history, the physician will conduct a physical examination to review any symptoms the person might have. For example, a tumor of the adrenal gland might produce an increased heart rate or a decrease in thyroid-stimulating hormone can produce depression and fatigue.
Of course the endocrinologist will order laboratory tests such as blood and urine testing to determine the hormone levels. In the case of tumors of the endocrine glands, it might be necessary for the physician to order an x-ray or scan to rule out a cancerous tumor.
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Print Source: Cotran R, Kumar V, and Robbins, SL. 1999. Robbins Pathologic Basis of Disease, 6th Ed. W.B. Saunders Company, Philadelphia