Hormones are the chemical messengers that are transported throughout the body. It helps to coordinate and regulate various processes. These chemicals are produced and secreted by glands. Collectively these glands and hormones comprise the endocrine system. It is prone to various diseases that may directly or indirectly affect the gland.
These are some of the endocrine glands located throughout the body. It is important to not that endocrine glands secrete hormones directly into the bloodstream. It should not be confused with exocrine glands that release secretions, like enzymes, into a body cavity.
For example, the salivary glands are exocrine glands. The pancreas both an endocrine and exocrine component. In terms of its exocrine functions, it releases digestive enzymes into the small intestine. As part of its endocrine function it secretes hormones like insulin into the bloodstream.
Read more on list of glands.
- Pituitary gland (base of the brain)
- Pineal gland (deep in the center of the brain)
- Hypothalamus (base of brain above the pituitary gland)
- Thyroid gland (front of the neck)
- Parathyroid glands (neck behind the thyroid)
- Pancreas (upper abdomen)
- Adrenal glands (upper flanks on top of each kidney)
Pelvis and Perineum
- Ovaries (female)
- Testes (male)
The signs and symptoms of endocrine diseases do not usually occur in the area of the gland. This is due to the fact that the hormones secreted by these glands can travel via the bloodstream and may have the most pronounced effect elsewhere on or in the body.
Generalized Endocrine Symptoms
When the endocrine glands malfunction or there is some disturbance in the hormone levels then many different signs or symptoms may arise. Some of these signs and symptoms are specific to the gland and hormone that is affected. For example, thick facial hair growth in women may be a sign of high testosterone levels.
Other signs and symptoms may not be as specific. These symptoms are generalized and may occur in many different endocrine diseases. It is therefore difficult to isolate it to a specific gland and diagnose the type of endocrine disease solely by the symptoms. For example, weight gain may be seen in hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)ad Cushing’s syndrome (adrenal gland dysfunction).
Weight gain is seen in many endocrine diseases. However, weight gain in most people is due to high calorie intake and a sedentary lifestyle. Endocrine diseases should not be immediately attributed as the cause of weight gain until dietary and lifestyle factors can be excluded and if relevant diagnostic tests can confirm an endocrine disease.
- Hypothyroidism is one of the most common endocrine causes of weight gain. The thyroid gland secretes the thyroid hormones that regulate the body’s metabolic rate. A drop in metabolic rate as a result of hypothyroidism may contribute to weight gain.
- Ovarian disorders like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may also contribute to weight gain as the imbalance in estrogen and progesterone contributes to fat accumulation especially in areas like the breast, lower abdomen, buttocks and upper thighs.
- Cushing’s syndrome is a result of any condition that causes an excess of glucocorticoids. Cushing’s syndrome may arise from an excess in exogenous corticosteroids (corticosteroid drugs) or endogenous corticosteroids (natural corticosteroids). The latter may be due to a disease of the adrenal gland itself or related to regulation of the adrenal gland by the hormone adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH) secreted by the pituitary gland. Fat distribution is pronounced in the abdomen, back of the neck and back, where it may cause what is known as a buffalo hump. A round, moon face is another feature.
Unintentional weight loss can occur for various reasons. If it arises without a change in diet or in the backdrop of eating disorders, then it has to be investigated further. Apart from various diseases including the endocrine diseases listed below, it can also occur with cancers.
- Hyperthyroidism is a result of increased production and circulation of the thyroid hormones from the thyroid gland.
- Diabetes mellitus, commonly referred to as sugar diabetes, is when the pancreas produces little or no insulin or the body’s cells do not respond to insulin (insulin resistance).
- Adrenal insufficiency is when the production and/or secretion of the mineralocorticoids and/or glucocorticoids is decreased. This is seen in conditions like Addison’s disease.
- Short stature (height and build) may be due to a deficiency in growth hormone secreted from the pituitary gland. Growth hormone regulates the growth of cells and tissues and triggers the synthesis of proteins.
- Alterations in facial structure may be due to diabetes mellitus, PCOS, Cushing’s syndrome or acromegaly (excess growth hormone).
There are various diseases and disorders that can affect reproductive health and sexual function. The most common causes are endocrine in nature. For example, polycystic ovarian syndrome is one of the most common causes of female infertility.
In both men and women, dysfunction with the gonads (ovaries in women, testes in men), pituitary dysfunction FSH/LH), thyroid dysfunction and diabetes mellitus are some of the more common endocrine disorders that affect fertility. However, a dysfunction of almost any endocrine gland or its hormone can impact on fertility.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) leads to abnormally high testosterone levels in a woman’s body which affects ovulation.
- Thyroid dysfunction (hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism) as discussed above may affect menstruation and ovulation.
- Hyperprolactinemia is an excess of prolactin secreted by the anterior pituitary and other tissues and affects menstruation. Prolactin is always being produced and secreted in the body but this can be increased (TRH and GnRh) or decreased (PIF) by the hypothalamus.
- Hypogonadism when the ovaries in women secrete less estrogen and/or progesterone in menopause or premature ovarian failure may affect menstruation.
- Delayed puberty or primary amenorrhea may be due to hypothyroidism (thyroid hormones), hypopituitarism (affecting FSH/LH), or hypogonadism (estrogen, progesterone).
- Hirsutism may be due to Cushing’s syndrome. It presents as abnormal facial hair growth in women as well as hair growth elsewhere on the body that is not characteristic for females.
- Delayed puberty may be due to hypogonadism (underdeveloped testes) and hypopituitarism (underactive pituitary gland).
- Erectile dysfunction may be due to hypogonadism (testes) or arises as a complication in endocrine disorders like diabetes mellitus (insulin).