Endocrinologist: Your Diabetes, Thyroid & Hormone Specialist

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What is an endocrinologist?

An endocrinologist specializes in diagnosing and treating hormone imbalances, diabetes, and other problems with your body’s endocrine glands. Endocrine glands include the thyroid, parathyroid, pancreas, ovaries, testicles, hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands. An endocrinologist is a diabetes specialist, but also manages the complex health needs of adults with many other endocrine, metabolic or glandular conditions that often affect many body systems.

An endocrinologist typically: 

  • Evaluates your medical history and past test results

  • Performs a physical exam

  • Orders and interprets laboratory tests, hormone tests, and imaging exams

  • Performs fine-needle aspirations

  • Prescribes medications and radiation therapy

  • Recommends surgery as needed

  • Diagnoses and treats diabetes, thyroid disorders, bone problems, obesity, metabolic syndrome, growth problems, and endocrine cancer

Endocrinology is a subspecialty of internal medicine. For doctors certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, the formal subspecialty is endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism. Endocrinologists may also be known by the following names: diabetes doctor, metabolic doctor, or hormone specialist.

Who should see an endocrinologist?

In most cases, people visit an endocrinologist when their primary care doctor refers them to one. The purpose of the referral is for an expert diagnosis or treatment of an endocrine problem. However, an endocrinologist is not a surgeon. If you need surgery, your endocrinologist will refer you to a surgeon.

If you require continuing care for an endocrine condition, your endocrinologist will let you know if you should continue to see him or her or return to your primary care doctor. In general, your primary care doctor can treat and manage uncomplicated hormonal disorders. For more complex hormonal conditions, your endocrinologist will most likely remain involved in your treatment.

When should you see an endocrinologist?

Consider seeking care from an endocrinologist under the following situations: 

  • You are diagnosed with more than one endocrine problem or a complicated endocrine disorder.

  • You are looking for a second opinion about an endocrine diagnosis or treatment strategy.

  • You are newly diagnosed with an endocrine disease and require expert treatment recommendations.

  • You have an endocrine disorder that has been stable, but you are now having problems managing it.

  • You require an expert diagnosis for new symptoms of an endocrine disorder.

What does an endocrinologist treat?

An endocrinologist treats conditions and diseases that involve hormonal imbalances or other problems with your body’s endocrine glands. Hormones act as chemical messengers in your body. Because of this, hormone or gland problems affect many of your body’s systems and are often connected. These conditions include:

What does an endocrinologist test?

An endocrinologist can order or perform a wide variety of diagnostic and screening tests for endocrine or hormonal health problems. These tests include:

  • Biopsies including fine-needle aspirations

  • Blood tests including hormone blood levels, blood chemistries, and blood glucose tests

  • Hormone tests including dexamethasone suppression tests, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) stimulation tests, corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) stimulation tests, and oral glucose tolerance tests (OGTT)

  • Imaging exams including radioisotope scans, bone density tests, ultrasounds, CT (computed tomography) scan, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), and EKGs (electrocardiograms)

  • Urine tests including urinalysis and 24-hour urine collections

What procedures and treatments does an endocrinologist do?

Endocrinologists order or perform various procedures and treatments to manage hormonal conditions. If you need surgery, your endocrinologist will refer you to either a general surgeon or a specialized surgeon depending on your condition. Common endocrinology procedures and treatments include: 

  • Counseling including behavior modification for obese and overweight patients

  • Diet including medical weight loss treatments and nutrition education

  • Exercise and fitness counseling including weight-bearing exercises and cardiovascular conditioning

  • Medications including hormonal therapy, hormone replacement, hormone blockers, vitamins, diabetes medications, insulin, targeted biologic therapies and cancer chemotherapies

  • Radiation including radioactive isotopes for hyperthyroidism, radiation therapy, and other applications

  • Recommendations and referrals for surgery including partial or full removal of an endocrine gland, weight loss surgery, and surgery to remove cancerous and noncancerous tumors

How do I choose an excellent endocrinologist?

To find a doctor with the right qualifications, look for an endocrinologist who is board certified in endocrinology. Board certification verifies that a doctor has completed an endocrinology residency and passed an exam verifying her expertise. A board-certified endocrinologist is an MD or DO who has completed subspecialty fellowship training and has earned certification in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism by the American Board of Internal Medicine or in endocrinology by the American Osteopathic Board of Internal Medicine. Both Boards require prior residency training and certification in internal medicine. To maintain board certification, an endocrinologist must participate in an ongoing certification program.

To set up an appointment with an experienced endocrinologist today, discover board-certified endocrinologists near you.

When you call a doctor’s office for information, ask about his expertise and success treating your particular condition. Some endocrinologists focus their practice on one or two endocrine system diseases and are highly skilled at treating them, such as:

  • Bone disorders

  • Diabetes

  • Growth disorders

  • High blood pressure

  • Lipid and cholesterol disorders

  • Obesity and overweight

  • Pituitary gland disorders

  • Thyroid diseases

If your child needs to see an endocrinologist, look for a board-certified pediatric endocrinologist. Pediatric endocrinology is a subspecialty of pediatrics.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jan 22
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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