Your endocrine system includes several major glands throughout your body that produce hormones, the chemical messengers that travel through your bloodstream to your tissues and organs. Hormones work slowly and affect body processes from head to toe; they influence growth, metabolism, as well as the reproductive system and heart function. If your hormone levels are too high or too low, you may have an endocrine or hormone disorder. Our highly skilled endocrinologists at Houston Methodist treat patients with a wide spectrum of endocrine diseases.
In the United States, the most common endocrine or metabolic disease is diabetes, which is due to effects of insulin produced in the pancreas.
There are many endocrine disorders; some are common, others are rare, but all have significant effects on the body.
Types of Endocrine Disorders
The following endocrine disorders result from changes in one or more of the hormone-producing endocrine glands that have different functions but work together to keep you healthy:
- Adrenal glands (produce adrenaline and hormones that regulate chemical balance and metabolism)
- Cushing’s syndrome (too active)
- Addison’s disease (not active enough)
- Pheochromocytomas (tumors)
- Ovaries (produce estrogen and progesterone in women)
- Ovarian cysts and polycystic ovary syndrome (ovaries produce more male hormones than normal)
- Premature ovarian failure (premature menopause)
- Pancreas (produces insulin and other hormones)
- Parathyroid glands (essential for proper bone development)
- Hyperparathyroidism (too much calcium in blood)
- Hypoparathyroidism (too little calcium and too much phosphorus in blood)
- Pituitary gland (regulates the other endocrine glands)
- Acromegaly (too much growth hormone)
- Hypopituitarism (too little of one of the pituitary hormones)
- Testes (produce testosterone in men)
- Inadequate testosterone
- Thyroid gland (produces thyroid hormones)
- Grave’s disease and hyperthyroid conditions (too much hormone)
- Hashimoto's thyroiditis and hypothyroid conditions (too little hormone)
Causes of Endocrine Disorders
Your endocrine system helps control the balance of hormones in your bloodstream. If your body has too much or too little of a certain hormone, the feedback system in your body signals the proper gland or glands to correct the problem. A hormone imbalance occurs if this system has trouble keeping the right level of hormones in the bloodstream or if your body does not clear them out of the bloodstream properly.
Increased or decreased levels of endocrine hormones may be caused by several factors:
- Failure of a gland to stimulate another gland to release hormones (for example, a problem with the hypothalamus can disrupt hormone production in the pituitary gland)
- A genetic disorder, such as multiple endocrine neoplasia or congenital hypothyroidism
- Injury to or tumor of an endocrine gland
Symptoms of Endocrine Disorders
The symptoms of an endocrine disorder depend on the gland involved and the specific changes in its function.
- Gigantism (acromegaly) and other growth hormone problems result from the function of the pituitary gland — too much growth hormone and a child's bones and body parts may grow abnormally fast; too little and a child can stop growing taller.
- Infertility can result from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which causes overproduction of androgens by the ovary, interfering with the development of eggs and their release from the ovaries.
- The thyroid gland can produce too much (hyper) or too little (hypo) hormone.
- Too much thyroid activity (hyperthyroidism, overactive thyroid) causes weight loss, fast heart rate, excessive sweating and nervousness.
- Too little thyroid activity (hypothyroidism, underactive thyroid) results in fatigue, constipation, dry skin and depression.
Diagnosing and Treating Endocrine Disorders
Blood and urine tests to check hormone levels can help determine if you have an endocrine disorder. Imaging tests may help locate or pinpoint a nodule or tumor. Endocrinologists at Houston Methodist see many patients across the spectrum of endocrine diseases and use the latest imaging and clinical tests available.
Endocrine disorders are usually treated by controlling hormone levels. Hormone supplements can help stabilize hormone levels. Treatment of endocrine disorders, however, can be complicated, because a change in one hormone level can affect another. Repeated blood work may be necessary to determine if your medication